Wrong, wrong, wrong. That mantra kept being repeated in my increasingly irritated mind as I read Bill Monroe's call to kill more cougars in last Sunday's Oregonian.
Monroe is an outdoors writer. But it's obvious that he doesn't know much about cougars, including their beneficial effect on ecosystems and how non-dangerous they are to people.
Last week my wife and I went to a presentation at the Salem library by Oregon State University professor Bill Ripple called "Linking cougars to butterflies." As a Statesman Journal story said, cougars and other top predators are essential for a balanced natural environment.
(Here's a PDF file of the story, in case the link goes dead: Download Cougar article)
Picture two valleys in Utah's Zion National Park.
One teems with large cottonwood trees, wildflowers, butterflies and so many frogs you need to watch your step along the stream. The other offers fewer cottonwood trees, wildflowers and only a handful of varieties of frogs, butterflies and lizards.
If you ask renowned OSU professor Bill Ripple, the more abundant landscape can be traced back to cougars.
Ripple and OSU Professor Robert Beschta, known for their work on predator, prey and plant relationships, found that cougars play an essential role in maintaining biodiversity. Ripple's latest study with colleagues outlines how smaller predators fill in the gaps left by dwindling larger predator populations and cause bigger financial and environmental headaches.
Monroe wrong-headedly argued that killing more cougars in Oregon will increase the deer and elk population, making hunters happy. There's a couple of problems with this theory.
First, who says that nature has to be managed for the benefit of hunters? Most Oregonians don't hunt. My wife and I, along with a majority of our fellow citizens based on past votes, would much prefer that cougars and wolves be left alive to roam our state.
Second, as noted above, killing top predators opens up the ecosystem door for smaller predators. Fewer cougars means more coyotes, which also kill deer and elk.
Bill Monroe should read the newspaper that he writes for. Earlier this month the Oregonian ran a story about Ripple's research.
The public and researchers are used to the notion that driving down large predators increases populations of elk and deer, said William Ripple, an OSU professor of forest ecosystems and society.
Less obvious: The drop in the biggest predators also appears to increase the populations of predators the next step down the chain.
In the past two centuries, the range of the gray wolf in North America has fallen 42 percent, the researchers said, while the range of coyotes has expanded by 40 percent. The cougar's range has dropped 37 percent.
When the researchers ran the numbers, "it was somewhat surprising how dramatic the rise of the mesopredators was as the range of the large carnivores contracted," Ripple said.
The big predators are often targeted by ranchers and others trying to protect livestock or villages, Ripple and OSU assistant professor Clinton Epps said. But the problems created in eliminating top predators can exceed the original problem.
Monroe promulgated another falsehood when he quoted Jess Messner, who wants dogs to be allowed in cougar hunting again, even though Oregon voters have said "No!" to this twice.
Messner said that cougars are sighted everywhere around Redmond, where he lives. "People fear for their children."
If Monroe was a responsible and knowledgeable reporter, he would have pointed out in his story that since 1990 nobody has been attacked by a cougar in Oregon, and only a few people in the entire United States.
Doing away with pit bulls would benefit the safety of children a whole lot more than killing cougars would. But rationality isn't much in evidence among those who want to slaughter top predators for no good reason.
Cougars benefit the environment. They are almost never a danger to humans (the risk of an attack is something like 1 in 100 million.) Up to 90% of supposed cougar sightings aren't really cougars at all, but rather kitty cats and such.
I'm not an outdoors writer, yet I know this. You'd think that Bill Monroe would too. However, in his story he uncritically echoed claims that Oregon's cougar population is growing rapidly, based on unverified sightings.
Like I said, Monroe was wrong, wrong, wrong. Hopefully he'd educate himself about cougars before he writes another story about them. I'll help him out:
Here's an OSU media release about Ripple's study, "Cougar Predation Important in Wildland Ecosystems."
And here's the full study report.