As most of you probably know by now, we lost almost a dozen sheep this weekend in an apparent cougar attack on our property. A neighbor and I found them Saturday morning, and you can read all the gruesome details in a column I wrote for the Woodburn Independent this week.
Rather than rehashing all that, I wanted to focus here on what should be done going forward. Ours may have been the worst attack (so far), but it wasn’t the first; it’s simply another in a steady stream of incidents that has been going on for at least a month.
What’s more, we live only a few miles from an elementary school, and there are young families and elderly residents all around us. We are honestly worried for our friends and neighbors and children.
Whatever is going on with this animal, it’s clearly dangerous and is behaving unlike a typical cougar. It likes to kill things, or at least it seems to, and it’s obviously very good at it.
Because our attack happened between Friday and Saturday, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was closed (apparently OFW was unaware that wild animals don’t take weekends off) and the state police had to sub in. The trooper was great, but he admitted that this was not his area of expertise. And the wildlife specialist from USDA showed up a day too late and didn’t set a single trap on our property.
He came back Monday with another specialist. They were very nice, and we appreciated their information and all, but we wanted (and expected) a more active, timely approach.
To us, it felt like a token response to what seems to be a serious public safety concern. Some of our more cynical neighbors have said it will take a person, or God forbid, a child being attacked before the powers that be really do something about it. I hope and pray that’s not true and it doesn’t come to that.
Now, we and our neighbors are country folk. We’re not afraid to roll up our
sleeves and take care of something like this ourselves when it needs, you know, taken care of. Thing is, as any hunter will tell you (and I’m not one), these cats are virtually impossible to hunt without dogs, which has been illegal in Oregon since voters approved Measure 18 in 1994.
Since then, the cougar population in Oregon has ballooned to an estimated 6,000 — which is twice the level required by the state management plan.
The state knows the animals’ territories are beginning to encroach on human population areas, but its response to the problem — raising the statewide cougar hunting quota by 25 percent this year — doesn’t make all that much sense, as hunters weren’t meeting the quota at its previous level.
Imagine a carnival game, one of those high striker deals where you smack a lever with a big hammer and try to hit the bell at the top of the tower.
Only, this one’s rigged, so it’s impossible to ring the bell. The carnival organizers notice the game’s patrons becoming frustrated because no one can hit the bell, so in their infinite wisdom, they decide to make the tower even taller, and the bell even farther out of reach. That’s sort of like what the state has done here.
We don’t need a taller tower. What we need is a bigger hammer, one that comes with fur, teeth, four legs, a waggy tail and a dazzlingly acute sense of smell.
I get that hunting with dogs is not sporting. Well, we’re not looking for sport. We’re trying to deal with a serious threat to both property and human life. Failing that, we’re left with few options other than waiting for a response from the local, state and federal agencies that has been underwhelming at best.
Who knows? Maybe the thing will keep forgetting to eat its kills and will eventually die of starvation. Unfortunately, that appears to be about our best hope for relief at this point.