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For Immediate Release, January 23, 2008

Contacts: Michael Moss, Goat Ranchers of Oregon and Ranchers for Rural Responsibility, (541) 899-1694
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Ranchers Sue to Stop Federal Cougar Killing;
Say Plan Violates Federal Law, Lacks Scientific Credibility

PORTLAND, Ore.— A group of ranchers, along with wildlife advocates, filed suit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon to stop the federal government from indiscriminately killing cougars across the state. The plaintiffs charge that officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services did not examine all the adverse environmental impacts of their decision to kill cougars on behalf of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The plan to kill up to 2,000 cougars in Oregon will hurt ranchers and farmers. By killing established adult cougars, government officials are skewing the population towards younger cats more often implicated in conflict with domestic animals. By implementing a plan based on bad science and inaccurate cougar population estimates, officials are actually creating the problem their plan claims to address,” said Michael Moss of Goat Ranchers of Oregon and Ranchers for Rural Responsibility, a collective of agricultural interests.

In 2006, the state approved a plan to kill up to 2,000 cougars across Oregon. The federal government then agreed to help carry out that plan. In its lawsuit, the ranchers contend the federal government’s implementation of the plan is based on scientifically flawed data. For instance, a study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management in 2006 found that cougar populations in the Pacific Northwest are actually declining, due in part to increased human intrusion on cougar habitat and a young age structure of the cougar population caused by heavy hunting. The Journal study also recommended reduced hunting levels, particularly among adult females, throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“There is absolutely no scientific basis for killing as many as 2,000 cougars in Oregon as proposed by the Oregon Department of Wildlife,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By maintaining the health of deer and elk populations, the cougar is a critical component of the web of life in Oregon.”

Though agriculture interests have typically been staunch opponents of protecting cougars, a growing number of ranchers and farmers in the state are coming to the defense of the big cats. They have argued that rather than killing cougars, Oregon should educate ranchers and farmers — as well as the general public — about how to avoid conflicts with wildlife. Individuals can take simple steps — such as avoiding feeding wildlife, bringing companion animals in at night, sheltering domestic farm and ranch animals, installing motion lighting around their property, recreating with others while in cougar country, and educating their families about cougars without instilling undue fear — to prevent encounters with cougars and other wildlife. The ranchers' suit claims the U.S. Department of Agriculture largely ignored the use of non-lethal, preventative alternatives for managing cougars.

In addition to the ranchers, the lawsuit was brought on behalf of Big Wildlife, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Mountain Lion Foundation, and Umpqua Watersheds.

Click here to read the complaint

Click here for more information about cougars

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