Nathan’s Corner: Notes From The Field

Mountain lions (Puma concolor) have been in the news a lot recently as more sightings occur in Central Oregon and across the west. They are handsome and secretive animals, native wildlife, and elegantly adapted apex predators. They take a great variety of prey, especially deer, and generally ambush rather than chase them down. Males are significantly larger than females, can get up to around 200 lbs., and disperse over larger distances. Litter size is variable, though they most commonly have two kittens. Historically, mountain lions ranged broadly over most of the entire Western Hemisphere, though they have been largely extirpated from most of eastern and central North America. 

Until relatively recently, their population numbers in Oregon were suppressed, due mostly to unsustainable hunting and management practices. Estimates suggest that their numbers are recovering, though eventually the population will be checked by the carrying capacity of the habitat and kept in a somewhat oscillating balance by resource limitation, such as available prey and territory. As a superbly adapted predator shaped by millions of years of evolution, mountain lions do not “decimate” deer herds but rather somewhat stabilize their numbers, helping to prevent overpopulation and subsequent crashes as well as culling weak or diseased prey. 

If there is any large, invasive, wide-ranging, sometimes dangerous mammal with population numbers that are spiraling out of control, spreading impacts and resulting in conflicts, I’ll give you one guess what that species is (hint: it walks upright). As The Bulletin recently noted (February 13, 2019), “Oregon’s human population has skyrocketed…particularly in areas adjacent to forests where cougars make their homes. In Central Oregon, this has brought a rash of cougar sightings.” Infrequent situations do arise when a mountain lion is perceived as a threat to human safety. The best way to avoid conflicts to begin with is to constrain our destruction, degradation, and fragmentation of native mountain lion habitat through containing urban sprawl and inappropriate rural development. Rather than fear and loathing, mountain lions deserve our respect and admiration.

Nathan Hovekamp
Wildlife Program Director