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Representative Sprenger’s district gets attention for working together on Cougar problem – Front page of the Oregonian

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Kimberly A.C. Wilson at the Oregonian recently wrote an article about the Cougar issue and Rep Sprenger’s town hall. You can read a snippet below or click here to read the entire article

6 cougars killed on sheep ranch rattles neighbors, renews debate about how to handle higher numbers

Kimberly A.C. Wilson

Locals have coined a nickname this summer for Cathy Stepp’s 230-acre sheep farm in the Cascade foothills outside Corvallis: Cougar Ranch.

The new name is fitting. Since July, cougars have picked off five ewes in Stepp’s flock of 75 Suffolk/Hampshire crosses. In turn, Linn County trapper Jim Schacht tracked and killed six of the big cats on her spread. And neighbors spotted a seventh casually crossing the road near Stepp’s house.

The phenomenon prompted more than 160 of Stepp’s neighbors to pack a recent public hearing to talk about their fears.

State cougar managers say the flurry of mountain lion attacks on one Willamette Valley ranch appears to be an anomaly. The likely reasons are myriad. Experts say cougar births are cyclical and may have spiked a year or two ago. They also point to a decrease in available territories for young adult cats forced out of the nest, the forested rural landscape of Stepp’s ranch and the docile nature of the prey.

But there may be another reason for sporadic livestock slaughters of sheep and alpacas at farms in Brownsville, Pleasant Hill, Eagle Point and Junction City — simple arithmetic. Cougar numbers have doubled in the past 16 years since voters approved a ban on hunting them with dogs.

“We have more people and more cougars in the same places,” said David Williams, state director for the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which offers on-the-ground help in managing problems caused by wildlife.

The intersection of humans and cougars continues apace, Williams said. Last year, trappers killed 110 cougars for preying on livestock — two more than the yearly average. Another 31 cougars were killed for personal safety — the highest number for that reason in 10 years.

Hunters filed for nearly twice as many tags to hunt cougars last year compared to 2001 and killed 274, the third highest number since then. But complaints about cougars were down during the same period by about half to 432 last year.

Neighbors alarmed

Cougars roam in most places around Oregon except the most urbanized areas, and reports of sightings have come from places around the metro area including McMinnville and L.L. “Stub” Stewart State Park. Still, many rural residents say they’ve never seen one.

So when half a dozen struck Stepp’s sheep farm off Courtney Creek Drive, just five miles south of Oregon 228 in Brownsville, her neighbors took alarm.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stepp said during a break from chores.

State Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, organized the town hall-style meeting to give residents a forum to air their concerns about conflicts with cougars. “This has been persistent and is growing,” Sprenger said, “and I don’t want to say it’s unmanageable, but it’s overwhelming.”

Friends and neighbors in the district have told the lawmaker that they won’t walk their pastoral properties without a firearm. “Cougars are beautiful, majestic animals, but people have a right to be on their property and not be in fear,” she said.

Click here to read the entire article