An advocate for cougar preservation will present a free educational program she calls “Living with Cougar” from 5-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, in the Gresham Room at the Ashland Public Library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.
The nonprofit organization Oregon Cougar Action Team (OreCat.org) is based in the Corvallis area, but travels around the state to provide educational presentations on the benefits cougars, bears and wolves provide to local ecosystems.
OreCat says it is raising funds to give away 20 “guardian puppies” to subsistence farmers and women who hike alone in the wilderness. Each Great Pyrenees/Maremma puppy costs OreCat $400 but are free to approved applicants, according to OreCat Director Jayne Miller.
“These particular dogs have been bred for over thousands of years to be livestock guardian dogs,” Miller said. “They have specific attributes ... that are unique to protect family, which includes livestock.”
OreCat is looking for a family to adopt the first puppy in the Ashland area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an application. Applications can be emailed or turned in at the presentation.
Miller, who says she is also a permaculture farmer and ecologist, has talked to Ashland residents about their cougar concerns. She, along with two other OreCat members, Krystal Heitmeyer and Teresa Bryant, will address some of those concerns at the presentation, including:
Why we are seeing more cougars;
How to stay safe around cougars;
What are the real risks of living with cougars;
What is the biology and behavior of cougars; and
What is working for California?
“California has developed a whole culture on living with their cougars because they are protected,” Miller said. “Learning to coexist with the cougar actually creates a healthier ecosystem to live in.”
Miller said there’s many benefits to living with cougars that people aren’t aware of, such as mitigation of Lyme disease because cougars control the population of animals that transmit Lyme disease via ticks.
“In the areas that ODFW have eradicated cougar to enhance hunting of deer (there) are increased reports of human exposure to Lyme disease, including dogs,” Miller said.
She said cougars help ecosystems by changing the patterns of where deer and elk wander, which keeps them from overgrazing habitat.
She also said we’re seeing more cougars because of the impact people and fire have had on the population and its habitat, not because the cougar population is increasing. Miller said ODFW is misleading the public in its cougar management plan, which states that there are more than 6,400 cougars in Oregon as of April 2017. Miller said cougar kittens, which have a mortality rate of about 50 percent, are inappropriately included in the total.
Steve Niemela, an assistant district wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the population estimates are based on some of the best data about cougars in the Northwest. He said at one point the species’ numbers were precariously low, but since measure 18, which banned hunting of cougars with dogs, passed in 1994, there’s been an increase in population.
“Some people would say we have an abundance of cougars,” Niemela said. “We do have a robust cougar population and they do get into trouble.”
In partnership with Holly Jensen of Tons of Noise Farm in Grants Pass, the OreCat puppies are supplied to the nonprofit at nearly half the normal price.
Miller said follow-up visits will ensure puppies go to loving homes. She said they’re also trying to work with local veterinarians to spay and neuter the animals to ensure they won’t be bred for financial gain.
“I am a rancher and I grew up in Oregon on my family’s cattle ranch and I have a permaculture farm now, and livestock guardian dogs have been an amazing part of my life,” Miller said. “They’ve provided a great service in protecting my livestock and my sense of well-being, plus they’re a great family companion.”
Niemela, the ODFW biologist, said guardian and companion dogs are helpful, but people should keep in mind that even big dogs sometimes become prey to the predators they are protecting their families from.
“With that in mind, guardian dogs are an excellent tool to have in the toolbox,” Niemela said. “They can be very helpful in protecting livestock.”
For more information on OreCat, go to orecat.org/oregon_cougar_action_team.
For more information about cougars from ODFW, visit dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/cougars.asp.
Always report cougar sightings in populated areas and in daylight to either Ashland Police Department at 541-770-4784 or 911 as appropriate, or ODFW at 541-826-8774.