More than a 100 people packed into the Lebanon Public Library meeting room last Thursday for a town hall discussion on cougars.
The meeting, organized by Rep. Sherrie Sprenger (R-Scio), aimed at discussing the increased number of cougar sightings in Linn County.
Because the room’s occupancy allowed for only 100 people, the back doors to the library were opened and about 25 people crowded around the doors to listen in.
The meeting was sparked by recent reports of cougar sightings. A Brownsville farmer has had six cougars caught and killed on her farm over the last two months. All were killed by Linn County trapper Jim Schacht.
Sprenger facilitated the meeting. Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State Police and U.S. Department of Agriculture were on hand to help answer audience questions.
At the beginning of the meeting, Curt Melcher, ODFW deputy director, provided some background to the legal history involving cougars.
“Back in the ’60s no one ever saw a cougar,” Melcher said. “By the ’90s we had 3,000 cougars and the state of Oregon had a tightly-controlled hunting season for cougars.” At that point, hunters were able to utilize dogs to aid in hunting cougars.
That changed when Ballot Measure 18 passed in 1994, prohibiting the use of dogs to hunt cougars.
Since the ’90s, the cougar population has doubled to an estimated 6,000, Melcher said.
According to the ODFW, as of Aug. 9, 2010, a total of 236 cougars have been killed; 94 were killed by hunters and 142 were deemed “non-hunter kills.”
Most people at the meeting viewed cougars as a nuisance and encouraged Rep. Sprenger to address the issue next legislative session.
Three spoke in favor of humans and cougars living harmoniously.
Jayne A. Miller with the Oregon Cougar Action Team told the crowd that knowledge was the best weapon in dealing with cougars.
“I grew up around cougars and have seen them all my life and I’m here today unscathed,” Miller said.
She was the first to speak up in support of living in harmony with cougars. Miller spoke up 45 minutes into the meeting.
Sprenger, who lives in Lacomb, expressed concerns about the cougar population.
“We’re not trying to vilify cougars, they are beautiful majestic animals, but I love my 13-year-old son,” Sprenger said at the meeting.
“Do you know what it’s like to come home and have that fear that a cougar is stalking you?” Teresa Neumann, of Lebanon, asked the crowd. “This is an issue people in rural areas deal with. I find it unfair that when it goes to vote people with no experience with cougars have the sway.”
Others were concerned with the county halving the budget for the Linn County trapper. Sprenger said that was a county issue and encouraged people to talk with their county commissioners.
“When six show up in one small part of the state, we have a problem,” said Coy Cowart, of Lebanon.
Sprenger stressed this was not the only opportunity for the packed house to express their concerns, welcoming all to e-mail or call her. Sprenger may be reached at the capitol at (503) 986-1417 or by e-mail at email@example.com.