Dealing with animals in Ashland

Recently in Ashland, two "child" bears were torn from their families and were marched to their possible deaths. Like many relocated animals, they may have become too stressed and disoriented to find new food sources and starved to death. They might not have found hiding places or bedding, and they might have been hurt or killed by other bears they were intruding upon.

In 2006 and 2008, Ashlanders let bears much bigger than these leave on their own. The city educated people to bear-proof trash, and no more bears came. Why, this time, did the Ashland police call in Fish and Wildlife to deal with a 40-pound bear who was only four times the size of a tiny housecat?

About two weeks before that, the City Source newsletter advised residents to call the police or Oregon Fish and Wildlife if they see a bear or cougar. I'm concerned that this may be a death knoll for animals who haven't hurt anyone. It seems that Ashland police automatically call Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Fish and Wildlife, which is heavily influenced and funded by hunters, kills almost every cougar and kills or relocates almost every bear.

At council meetings, in e-mails and at a public discussion with Mayor John Stromberg, citizen after citizen urged the city to be kinder to these animals, most of whom are just young'uns too naive to avoid people. I asked the city to work with the Mountain Lion Foundation to train the police to use nonviolent methods such as scaring cougars and bears away. The Humane Society of the United States says the best thing is to scare the animals back into their territories.

Oregon seems to be the only state that kills almost all city cougars. Other states apparently relocate or leave most cougars alone. After citizens expressed concern about unnecessary killing of cougars, the city voted not to create its own policy, but instead to educate residents.

But since then, other than the discussion in which residents told the mayor how sad they were that the cougar was killed, the only education I've seen is a City Source article. It was compiled by a city secretary, who didn't attend the public discussion, and who probably hasn't heard or read citizens' concerns. The secretary simply wrote it based on what she read in Oregon Fish and Wildlife's manual.

I fear that this article will help set a trend of citizens calling authorities, who will then arrange to have non-aggressive animals killed — or sent off to possibly die in the wilderness.

Residents are statistically more likely to be killed by lightning than by a cougar or black bear. Is this fair to hurt these animals, when we could be scaring them away instead?

Ambuja Rosen is an Ashland writer specializing in animals. Her articles have appeared in Dog Fancy, I Love Cats, HorsePlay, and many other magazines.

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