There is no question that this is what a lot of people are calling a tough winter. Recently, there was a dead deer lying on the south side of the Bend/Sisters Highway, out behind the old Lazy Z headquarters. You couldn't miss it because there were usually at least one or two bald eagles partaking of much-needed protein and a couple of raven helping out.
That dead deer is where it was and not out with its family on the deer winter range because it was probably hooked on the goodies given it in town. Sure, the City passed an ordinance making it unlawful to feed the pretty deer in people's backyards...but who's enforcing it?
Meanwhile, a string of dead pets and the five cougars recently shot by officials in La Pine are probably saying the same thing: Watch out what you eat—it can kill you. One of the reasons those cougars were probably caught with their pants down, killing pets and chickens, is they were already there before the big snows, invisible to most everyone, making a living on the deer that people were feeding.
Those deer should have left to spend winter out near Silver Lake and Fort Rock, with all the thousands of others out there as we speak. But I'll bet they were hooked on the candy offered them by the well-meaning residents of the La Pine country.
When the snow hit, that cougar mom and her growing kittens made short work of those pet deer, not understanding that once they were gone that was it. After that there were only domestic animals left for those poor cougars, and that's when the whole thing dropped into the lap of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. State law says cougars will be lethally destroyed if they begin eating domestic animals. Period! No excuses, no reprieve from Gov. Brown or anyone else, and whose fault is it? Not the cougars'...!
Cougars do not like to eat pets. Cougars, for that matter, don't like to be in town; it makes them nervous and they don't feel safe. They have enough trouble staying alive in the so-called, "wild." Wandering around La Pine looking for chickens to eat is not their style. And it's not peaches-and-cream for those deer out on the winter range either. They have a couple of feet of crusted snow to dig through to get to any grasses. For them, bitterbrush is the key to survival. What everyone out there on the winter range is waiting for, and trying to get to, are those luscious herbs and brand new sprouts waiting under the snow for sunlight; that's the real health food for mule deer and elk.
The Cougar Hunting Season
To answer the question a lot of people have been asking: There is a hunting season on cougars, beginning on Jan. 1 and running through Dec. 31—or—until Hunt Zone quotas have been met, whichever occurs first. The entire state is open. However, specific Hunt Quota zones will be closed if harvest quotas for the year are met in that zone. Look on the ODFW website at the "Cougar Quota Page" or Oregon Big Game Regulations for quotas. The bag limit is one cougar per tag, except that it is unlawful to take spotted kittens or females with spotted kittens.
Why kill cougars? Hunting licenses and cougar tags bring much-needed money into coffers of ODFW. It also satisfies that group of people who enjoy killing lions, and it supplies wildlife biologists with special biological information about specific cougar specimens. However, as far as impacting the prey cougar go after, such as elk and mule deer, that opens the door to many, many questions about predator and prey relationships.
The current research regarding wolves and elk demonstrates that natural removal of prey by predators is one of the key factors in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, with plenty left over for the sport hunters. Cougars undoubtedly play that same role. My personal opinion—based on watching the indiscriminate killing of coyotes over the years—is that wildlife management agencies have to have a plausible working reason before they allow killing any animal "for the fun of it."
ODFW states that any person hunting cougars must have—on their person—a valid adult hunting license for the current year and a general season cougar tag and/or an additional cougar tag. An additional tag may be purchased throughout the season. However, hunters must purchase the general season tag prior to the deadline to be eligible.
ODFW further states that no person shall use dogs for the taking or pursuit of cougars, and permission is required to hunt on privately owned land. Any cougar taken must be presented at an ODFW office within 10 days of the kill to be checked and marked.
The bottom line is, if you don't want a cougar trying to eat Rover, Kittycat, and your cock-a-doodle-dos, do as the ODFW wildlife biologists have been asking over and over and stop feeding the mule deer!