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Groups seek delay in cougar hunt

By By JEFF BARNARD
AP environmental writer, Star Tribune
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GRANTS PASS, Ore.
Wildlife advocates are asking a judge to order federal government hunters to analyze the environmental impact before they start shooting cougars as part of a program to reduce the Oregon population.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services has already started work on an environmental analysis, which should be done by the end of the year, said Ron Anglin, head of the wildlife division of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Until then, state wildlife personnel will kill the 60 cougars targeted for removal this year in Jackson, Malheur and Morrow counties under the state's new cougar management plan, he said.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland against Wildlife Services by the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society of Oregon, Big Wildlife, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Umpqua Watersheds and the Mountain Lion Foundation.

It alleges that Wildlife Services violated the National Environmental Policy Act by agreeing to start killing cougars under the state management plan adopted last April by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission without first doing an environmental analysis or environmental impact statement.

Jonathan Lovvorn of the Humane Society of the Untied States said they would like to see the more detailed and time-consuming environmental impact statement done because ultimately thousands of cougars may be killed under the plan.

Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Hallie Pickhardt said from Washington, D.C., that they had not seen the lawsuit, and could not comment.

However, Anglin said state wildlife officials met May 31 with Wildlife Services about analyzing the environmental impacts.

The cougar management plan tries to restore the balance of cougars, humans, livestock and game animals that was in place in 1994, when Oregon voters adopted a ban on hound hunting, widely considered the most effective means of killing cougars. Voters reiterated their support for the ban two years later.

The cougar plan calls for holding Oregon's cougar population at or above the 1994 estimate of 3,000 animals. The current estimate is 5,000. It gives the department authority to kill cougars as long as livestock kills and complaints from people exceed 1994 levels, which they now do, and in 66 wildlife management areas where deer, elk and bighorn sheep herds are struggling.

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