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October 26, 2009

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I wish you would let go of your own mantra that cougar are not dangerous to humans in Oregon. It negates a lot of your other stronger points which I think are valid. Did you have the idea that cougars have a rule in Oregon that differs from the ones in Washington, Idaho, California or most of the states near us? I have a book written just on cougar kills and how they happened, what you can do about it. A book means it didn't just happen a time or two.

The truth is it's pure happenstance that nobody has been killed here and could change tomorrow. Why not keep your argument to what is the truth-- that dangerous animals, sometimes even to humans, can be important to keep around. Grizzlies are likewise beneficial to their ecosystem and we likely will have them again farther into the state of Oregon (some say they are in NE Oregon now).

The argument about a healthy ecosystem is a solid one but the argument they like humans too much to kill them or are so afraid of them that they won't kill them, is not logical. Sometimes, when they hang around schools, they do have to be killed but in general, in places like where I live, hikers just need to be aware of the rules for surviving an encounter, which even children have found can work. Nothing works all the time.

Rain, I'm confused. What is the evidence for cougars being a dangerous animal to humans? In the entire country, a few people a year are attacked by a cougar. Many, many more people are attacked by dogs -- sometimes fatally.

An expert on cougars says, "In all of North America over the last 112 years there are only about 100 documented cases of cougars attacking people, with 17 deaths resulting from the attacks." See:
http://hinessight.blogs.com/hinessight/2006/01/oregon_cougar_p.html

So where is the danger? Chain saws are more dangerous to people. Automobiles are way more dangerous. Lots of things, including other people, are way more dangerous to people than cougars.

Yet there is this irrational fear of cougars. People want to kill them, even though the risk of being attacked by a cougar is infinitesimal -- no more than 1 in 100 million or so, if even that.

The OSU expert whose talk we heard started off his presentation with a slide of the wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood story. I think this captures the problem: most people still have a childlike fear of big bad animals that roam in the night and eat them.

But again, this fear is irrational. It isn't supported by facts. People engage in all sorts of activities -- such as walking along a sidewalk in an area where pit bulls are owned -- that are hugely more dangerous than walking in the woods where cougars and wolves are.

Yet there isn't the same call to reduce the numbers of pit bulls, for example, even though pit bulls (and young men, for that matter) are vastly more of a risk to people than cougars are.

Your argument that just because something is potentially dangerous, we should fear it, doesn't make sense to me. I walk through woods when the wind is blowing. A large fir or oak could unexpectedly fall on me. Should I look upon those trees as "dangerous," rather than simply as trees?

If I do that, all of life becomes filled with danger. Again, an irrational (and unhealthy) way to live. Cougar-killing advocates look at these beautiful animals and say, "Well, even though no cougar has ever killed someone in Oregon, this might happen one day, so we need to reduce their population."

By the same logic, my wife and I should cut down many of the trees on our property, because one might fall down someday and hit us on the head. This is exactly analogous to the cougar situation (except more people have been killed by trees in Oregon than by cougars).

It's not irrational, Brian, to fear what can kill us and has killed other humans. The problem I have with your way of going at this would be that it matters if they are dangerous to humans.

Grizzlies are being reentered many places, spreading and they definitely can kill humans; so can black bears. The issue here is that you are using cougar's safety as part of your argument and it's not a valid one. Likely you, as a 6' male, would not face danger from them but they would kill your dog if she was seeming vulnerable, would kill a child if the setting was right, have killed full sized women in other states. What makes Oregon sacrosanct?

Fear of something is no reason to put it out of the environment. Your whole set of arguments doesn't make sense to me. The important basis of this argument is that they are good for the ecosystem and doesn't that have enough weight? Why do you always have to go back to how they never hurt anybody which is not true.

Unfortunately I cannot find the book. I will keep looking but may have loaned it out I bought it in Montana and it was a fairly dry collection of newspaper articles with some interviews coming from various states and Canada. It documented the attacks pretty clearly and what people can do to avoid the problem. My grandchildren who do spend a lot of time in wilderness areas with their parents and sometimes with us, they know the things to do which have saved other children's lives. Mostly it's be aware and know how to address the cougar if you do come across one looking predatory.

I live where cougar are far more plentiful than probably where you live in the inner valley and I don't feel fear about them but I do feel respect (which they deserve) and an awareness that I won't let my small grandchildren go alone to play at the back of our farm like I used to my own children in the days when cougar were hunted. Hunting didn't mean they weren't around, but likely made them more afraid of us. Maybe I was more naive back then.

There is a difference between fear and commonsense where it comes to any animal. We lost a 60 lb. newborn calf off our place this summer, totally vanished without a trace, which might have been stolen by a human but if not, the only other possibility would be a cougar carried it off. My assumption for now is it was human predator but the proof isn't definite either way.

To me your argument that their not presenting a danger to humans matters is a red herring. The issue is whether they are good for the system. and if they are then humans just should use some commonsense when in their territory-- as all of us who love to go to Montana must do when up there with the grizzlies who are coming back for good ecological reasons.

Rain, I agree with you that cougars can be dangerous -- just as a knife can be dangerous, or a dog can be dangerous, or just about anything else in life can be dangerous.

Sure, people should be cautious in cougar territory. They also should be cautious when driving a car, walking across an intersection, or cleaning the gutters.

My point is just that cougars seem to elicit an irrational extra fear in people that isn't justified by the facts about cougar attacks. Most people seem to think that the risk of an attack is much, much greater than it really is.

Hope this clarifies what I was trying to say. I didn't mean that cougars can't ever be dangerous. Just that they very rarely are dangerous to people, so there is little need to worry about being attacked by one.

I keep bringing up this fact because it is one of the main (untrue) reasons cougar-killing advocates keep raising. That children are at risk because cougars are roaming around. Again, children also are at risk because dogs are roaming around, cars are roaming around, and other people are roaming around.

So why single out cougars for reduction when society isn't talking about reducing the number of dogs or cars -- which pose much more of a risk to children (and adults) than cougars do?

Well you don't have to convince me that a healthy balance of predators is important to keep our ecosystem healthy. Too many rodents become dangerous also. (as in disease in case someone thinks I am implying they might attack our shins).

This isn't about cougar but coyotes but kind of interesting anyway where it comes to predators and the unexpected. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6895020.ece#cid=OTC-RSS&attr=797093

I have run out of the house in sandals and without a gun, yelling at a coyote to scare it off before it killed my lamb but it was just one. Generally I take a gun or at the least a club. Theoretically they always run but since they are animals, that's always theoretically.

One further thought is that if I ever was attacked by a predator, I figured I'd try to go for the eyes. It's the only real hope we have is get close enough and inside their lunge and go for their eyes... human also :)

Rain, I can't resist sharing my own news link about dangerous mammals in the woods: humans.
http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/10/portland_hunter_shot_and_kille.html

A Portland hunter was shot and killed by four people at a remote campsite. People are in much more danger from other people than they are from cougars, coyotes, or other non-human animals. Yet where is the call to reduce this threat? (For example, by banning guns on public land.)

To my mind, this shows that the concern over predators really isn't rooted in a concern about human safety, but springs from a different source.

Brian, you have a one track mind. What in what I linked here implied that anybody should eliminate all coyotes. Think outside the box. If you read it, it said it was a fluke probably, but the girl who was killed, something I had never heard of having happened before, might have survived if she had been prepared. Its point was to me anyway that people should not take wild animals for granted-- and that includes like deer who have done damage to humans also under unique circumsntaces. I did mention my self-defense tip related to human predators also. Living where I do, hunting season is always a concern to me for wayward bullets from hunters who are irresponsible. I am always happy when the season is over. It though has nothing to do with recognizing that any predator can prove dangerous and people who go into the wilderness or where they roam should use some common sense. Humans get so far from survival reality that they often forget that there are no nicey nice rules out there. It's whatever looks good to eat, seems threatening, and is convenient to kill. That's it. No moral grounds at all protects anybody but being prepared might.

Rain, I just found it interesting that on the same day, the newspaper had stories about separate people being killed out in the woods. The extremely rare instance of a woman who was killed by coyotes will grab readers' attention, while the rather common instance of a man being killed by other hunters won't.

My point is that we humans don't judge risks logically or reasonably. Rare events, like a cougar or coyote attack, frighten people way beyond the extent they should, while common events -- like human to human attacks -- are shrugged off.

It's sort of like child sexual abuse. Family members and relatives are the most common sexual predators, to my understanding, yet parents are overly worried about their kid being carted off and abused by a total stranger.

Well I didn't see the article period on the man being murdered by other humans (I don't take any local papers and get whatever I get online). It certainly would not be unusual but two coyotes killing a young woman, that's unusual at the least. In my part of Oregon mostly I have not seen coyotes hunt in packs and I wondered (except they killed one of them) if these were mixed with dog as dogs in a pack are generally far more dangerous than coyotes.

What made me relate to that story is my own experience with coyotes, which personalized it. I have had friends amazed that I would have done what I did to save my lamb, but mostly I did it because I didn't think it was a danger to me if I was aggressive in my approach. If i had seen a cougar after a lamb, you can bet, I'd have gotten my gun before going out.

When I am hiking or even walking in my local neighborhood when down in Tucson, I see coyotes quite often. They frequently go by the back of the patio there. They are not as afraid of humans, being citified, but never would I have thought a pack (which is how I often see them there) could present a danger to a human. I tend to think they wouldn't if the human was aware and defensive.

When something unusual happens, like when a sting ray kills a human, it gets into the papers faster than the many murders we regularly know are happening-- in the woods or not.

If I didn't consider humans a risk, I'd not have a loaded .357 in my house, handy where I know I can find it. I live in a remote area but where a highway isn't far away and it definitely has the potential for problems. I don't feel fear that a person will break into my house but knowing I have the gun is part of why I don't worry about it. Where it comes to predators (human or otherwise) my opinion is just be prepared. Actually fear will get you killed faster than anything else.

Rain, good advice. Being prepared is one thing; being fearful is something else. Life is too short and precious to go through it perpetually worried that something bad may happen at every moment.

After I wrote this post, I emailed Bill Monroe, who wrote the Oregonian article. Not surprisingly, he didn't like what I said.

However, Monroe didn't present any persuasive evidence that makes me think he knows more about cougars than I gave him credit for. Here's some excerpts from his email to me, with my responses:
-------------------
Monroe: "Oregon is far from regaining any sort of natural balance. Too many cities, people, ranches, industry, conflicting management policies, etc. Keeping hunters involved in management (you said "happy") is more than simply your myopic implication of a killing utopia. Take off the blinders and consider they foot most of the bill for wildlife management...for the benefit of all."

Me: Well, making Oregon more unnatural by unnecessarily killing top predators isn't going to help restore ecological balance. Monroe's article focused solely on the desire of hunters to have more deer and elk to kill, not on the overall role of wildlife in a natural environment. I call this myopic.

Who says that Oregon wildlife management policies benefit "all"? That's ridiculous. Those policies are tilted toward hunting, using outdated research (or no research at all). Hunters need to learn to be content with killing deer and elk that remain after top predators like cougars and wolves have had their fill. Managing wildlife for the sole benefit of hunters is absurd, just as managing forests for the sole benefit of timber companies is.
----------------------
Monroe: Cougars and wolves will/do indeed roam the state, but they simply cannot be allowed to do so without controls. Man has tamed Oregon for the most part and must now accept the responsibility to maintain new balance systems, often conflicting.

Me: There's some truth to this. But it's a matter of degree. Humans have learned, painfully, that letting natural systems act naturally usually is the wisest course of action. People aren't capable of either understanding or controlling all of the interacting feedback systems that operate automatically in nature, so we generally screw thing up the more we try to tell nature what to do.
-----------------------
Monroe: For crying out loud, I'm certainly not advocating elimination of cougars or even close...NOR do I ascribe to any kind of assertion they've become a threat to humans, although the level of close calls is certainly rising.

Me: Well, your article certainly gave a different impression. It approvingly publicized efforts to overturn Oregon's twice voter-affirmed ban on hunting cougars with dogs, which led to the near-extinction of cougars when this was allowed before.

And there was no attempt to balance the absurd "People fear for their children" quotation. People fear all sorts of irrational and imaginary things. Fox News fears that Obama is going to turn our country over to some sort of world government. Having a fear doesn't make true.

Responsible informed journalism points out inaccuracies, such as by adding a statement like "However, cougar attacks are extremely rare in Oregon, with none having occurred since 1990. Pit bulls are much more of a danger to children than cougars are."

Monroe's article gave the clear impression that cougars are an increasing danger to people. If this impression didn't match what he knows to be true, then this is the reporter's fault for engaging in poor writing.

From where are these 'facts' about near extinction coming? I saw you comment on it, did a Google search and found many left wing, green sites saying the same thing but with no figures and I am trying to understand how they know this and how many were here during the 'near extinction' phase? Having grown up in the foothills of the Cascades in Washington where I saw them nearby all my life, then moving to the Coast Range where I also hear them or see the kills later and have had one follow my kids off the hill when they were in their teens, I am trying to understand what this near extinction thing is about?

There is no doubt they will expand their range if their numbers do well as they need 50 miles and won't tolerate another cougar in their range; so young have to move off but near extinction? Is that just a lot of talk or are there some valid facts behind it?

When I first moves out here, there was one family who had dogs and occasionally used them to hunt cougar but are you aware how difficult and what excellent shape a man has to be in to do that? You follow them all over the hills until they are treed-- assuming they don't kill the dogs and run off. It's not the kind of thing that many people did and most of the ones I know were bow hunters also which means quite capable of running up and down hills in rough terrain. That's not a common ability.

I am not saying it's not so but would like to see from where these facts of near extinction came. Maybe in cities? *s*

Rain, I got the "near extinction" info from Bill Monroe's story in the Oregonian, as linked above. He wrote:

"Using dogs to hunt cougars and reduce their numbers is in the best interests of the entire state and deserves resurrection. Hunters themselves, in fact, were responsible for having the cougar protected in the 1960s, when the state's population hovered around 200."

Nobody really knows how many cougars there are in Oregon now, but Monroe thinks there should be a lot less, for reasons that aren't very reasonable (mainly, so that human hunters can kill the deer and elk that cougars are killing now).

At any rate, cougars were hunted to near-extinction with dogs. Now there are misguided calls to do the same thing. Crazy. Nature should be left as natural as possible. I don't want Oregon to become a state where wildlife are "managed" for the benefit of hunters, just like in a fenced game park.

Interesting and I saw other bloggers claim it but having lived out in areas where they live, they always seemed to be around. First time I heard a cougar scream was out here at the farm when we first moved here in 1977 and they were still allowing huntin of them with dogs.

Right now there are a lot of deer out here; which says cougar numbers aren't in any way too many for the area. Hunting fans should recognize less people are hunting today and when the deer or elk are too populous, they get diseases like wasting disease which can be dangerous to anyone eating the meat if they don't recognize the problem with the kill.

So many deer get hit every year by autos out here that worrying about a few cougar getting them seems silly-- and the real emphasis should be on getting fewer autos into their territory or lowering speed limits to keep the deer safe (definitely not popular with me but it would make more sense than worrying about deer killing by cougars). I am glad I didn't read the article but hope his power to make changes is limited to talk. The hunting though of a few problem cougar with dogs will be hunters paid for by the state and not remotely endanger the population as it's geared to those that move into city regions or have been hanging out near grade schools. There does have to be control of their numbers like any other wildlife. Starvation is not kinder than shooting.

Because it relates to your comment on dangerous hunters and an article on a man being killed by them, not on the cougars, I thought I'd put this link here as the end of that story (maybe). Basically it indicates the biggest danger in the woods, and I know also in most hunting accidents, is alcohol in excess--http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/11/no_criminal_charges_in_october.html

You have got to be kidding me... I can't beleive the hogwash thats coming out of some of your mouths. I guarrantee you that most of you that are whining about real true outdoorsman wanting to create a balance with the cougars and thier current population have no clue as to what goes on in the back country. You are for sure the same idiots that can't get logging americas renewable resource through your thick hemp reinforced skulls. I tell you that portland, salem, and eugene (especially) shouldnt even get a vote on this. We are outdoorsman, we pay the dues, we know the system, we have deep interest in sustaining and maintaining a healthy system so shut up eat your granola and move back to California or wherever you came from because damn it I'm not gonna sit aound and let your type of people take over a way of life that has far more importance the true oregonians. This is our land, our rivers, ocean, trees, mountains, animals. So if you want a wildlife safari paradise then move on down to WInston and find yourself a job saving ostrichs or something. Leave us the hell alone!

Bob, I've lived in Oregon since 1971. That's 38 years. I call myself a true Oregonian.

Who likes my nature natural. As do a majority of other true Oregonians, who have voted twice to ban dogs in cougar hunting.

Last I looked, this was a democracy. Majority rules in elections. Or don't hunters believe in our constitution?

You are correct Brian, majority does rule. The majority of the cougars that you are setting policy for live near the minority of our population. Big surprise, I guess, that you do not understand what is happening in our wild area's. How many hours in the past 10 years have you spent in the true wilds? I'm not talking about the park or walking down some road. I'm talking about being away from places humans typically would be found. Lets say somewhere near the North Fork of the John Day River in say February. I can not possibly count the hours I have spent enjoying this great state and it's wildlife. The balance of predator and prey is alarmingly skewed. Maybe you like to look at fact. Do a little research on the population of Elk and Deer in the North East of our state. They are crashing in a very big way. Is it that we are just hunting them out? Tag numbers have been slashed every year in an attempt to correct this slide. Recently, ODFW started the managed harvest of cougars in the Heppner unit. Before the cougar management began Calf numbers were in the low double digits per 100 cows. Last winter after 3 years of cougar management the calf numbers were 28 calves per hundred cows. I'm all for healthy cougar populations but we have effectively lost all ability to manage them because of this majority vote. Are you one of those who think nature will take care of its self? It will....if we will all just kill ourselves and remove all trace that we ever existed. Is this your nirvana? It certainly is not mine. I'd like to see my kids grow up and honestly understand nature rather than concrete or some university study. Do most of the people that post about the cougar issue (Willamette Valley) really believe that they understand the effects of excessive cougar numbers on wildlife in Eastern Oregon better than those who live, work and recreate there?

Gil, my wife and I are one/fourth owners of a cabin in Camp Sherman (central Oregon). We hike in wilderness areas and semi-wilderness areas a lot.

We live on ten acres in rural south Salem. Cougars are sighted in our neighborhood fairly frequently. I've walked with my dog at night through areas where cougars have killed deer recently. I'm cautious, but not afraid.

So I'm not a big city person who never is in cougar territory. My wife and I understand the facts about cougars. You seem to be uninterested in research in this area, preferring to rely on your personal experience.

I'm not questioning your personal experience. I'm just saying that this isn't a good foundation for statewide wildlife management. Facts are preferable to feelings.

Hope I don't sound dismissive of your feelings. But when I hear hunters bemoan the fact that cougars are killing deer and elk before they can kill them, my reaction is: "too bad." The cougars were here first.

Wow, I personally believe that cougars can be both harmful and helpful to the environment! I can see how people would be scared of cougars, in fact, our county has such an abundance of couagars that there was a picture taken of a cougar IN THE CITY LIMITS on a person's back porch! On the other hand I think that since we now have over 25 wolves in Oregon that the cougar population will decline, maybe not a lot at first. Wolves are a much more dangerous predator than cougars, being a higher ranking carnivor. Although there are very few records of cougars and wolves actually killing each other. Another thing, cyotes do not kill deer and elk! Unless there is a rare possibility that the ungulate is very wounded or perhaps almost dead. They are scavengers and do not take the place of cougars. I am a bowhunter and know for a fact that cougars are plentiful in our area, as well as deer and elk. But I feel much less safe hunting when I see a big cat track laying in mud from hours earlier. Why we shouldnt be allowed to hunt cougars with dogs i'm not sure. If you have to get a tag specifically for that it's not like its inhumane! You tree the cougar and shoot it, just like any other animal. Many think that the dog attacks cougars and try to rip it to shreds, NO! I think that hunting with dogs is an easier, safer, and perhaps even more humane way to hunt cougars, since it gives you a better shot than if it was running away from you. If cougars are getting brave enough to go into city limits, I personally hope that somethings going to be done about this!

ummmm...im confused..is the "full report" about Oregon or Zion County?? I want to know about how cougars are important in oregon not freaking zion canyon or whatever. and Bob Smith...love the post! totally true, i live in the the middle of nowhere oregon and agree with you!

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