BROWNSVILLE — For the fifth time in two months, a cougar has been trapped and killed on a sheep ranch east of town.
Cathy Stepp raises ewes on Courtney Creek Drive about 5 miles south of Highway 228, where the flat grasslands of the mid-valley give way to hillsides covered with large Douglas firs.
She has lost four of her 75 ewes to cougars since late May.
The latest cat — which measured 6-feet, 8-inches from tail to nose — was killed Sunday afternoon by county trapper Jim Schacht, after Stepp and her son, Colton, 12, found another dead ewe.
“We were down there and Colton was spraying thistles when we found it,” Stepp said. “The ewes were all looking over across the creek into the woods. That’s where the trapper found it, so he must have been watching us while we were there.
“It’s scary. I was born and raised here. It has gotten to the point that I won’t let Colton out of my sight,” Stepp said. “I’m a single mom with a small herd and we depend on this income. There’s such a small profit margin anyway. People who live in town just don’t realize what’s really going on out here.”
Stepp said continued pressure to decrease funding for the county trapper troubles her.
“We definitely need a trapper, especially if the state isn’t going to let people use dogs when hunting cougars,” Stepp said. “I definitely support changing that law.”
Schacht said when he started trapping 30 years ago, there were few cougar-human interactions.
“Now, I get from 10 to 13 cougar calls per month,” Schacht said. “I worked seven days last week, all of them in Linn County. It has definitely picked up.”
Schacht believes that because hunters can no longer use dogs to pursue them, the cougars have “lost their fear of humans.”
“Usually, a cougar has a range of about 100 square miles and they don’t like to share their area with other cougars,” Schacht said. “Now, they are more concentrated. I think many of these cougars are sub-adults, the 2-year-olds that have been kicked out to make room for new cubs.”
Schacht said his son, Landon, is the trapper in Benton and Polk counties.
“He’s probably getting six to eight calls a month,” Schacht said. “He recently had an incident in Polk County where the cougar dragged its kill into a guy’s barn and covered it with straw. That’s really unusual.”
So far, cougars have concentrated on killing sheep, goats and some domestic cats, Schacht said.