2/7/2009, 6:34 p.m. PST
The Associated Press
LA GRANDE, Ore. (AP) — The cougar population in northeastern Oregon was relatively unchanged last year although statewide numbers are up.
Cougars are frequently called "mountain ghosts" because the stealthy creatures are rarely seen in the open like deer and elk, making it tough to get an accurate count of their numbers.
But figures released by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife indicate that total cougar mortality in northeastern Oregon in 2008 was close to what it was in 2007.
Records show that in 2008 a total of 171 cougars were killed in the Blue Mountains Cougar Management Quota Zone, only 11 fewer than in 2007.
The 2008 total includes 110 cougars taken by hunters and 61 others recorded as having been killed.
Cougars included in the non-hunter mortality category include those shot because they were a threat to people or property and those fatally injured in collisions with motor vehicles.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Pat Matthews, who is based in Enterprise, says at least 90 percent of the cougars that hunters killed were taken incidentally.
The hunters were pursuing deer, elk or other wildlife when they encountered a cougar. Those hunters had cougar tags.
Hunting cougars has been restricted since 1994 when voters approved a ballot measure banning the use of dogs.
The state cougar quota for the Blue Mountains zone was 245, meaning another 74 cougars could have been killed in the zone in 2008 before the ODFW would have closed the season.
The Blue Mountains quota zone includes all units in Union, Wallowa and Baker counties. The units on the western border of the Blue Mountains Zone are the Ochoco, Heppner, Walla Walla and Ukiah units.
State figures indicate that the following number of cougars were taken by hunters annually over the following years: 2002, 102; 2003, 16; 2004, 31; 2005, 90; and 2006, 126.
Information from: The (La Grande) Observer, http://www.lagrandeobserver.com/
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