There's an oft-repeated ill prognostication amongst folks who wouldn't have banned hunting cougars with hounds in Oregon.

Since Oregon voters have twice upheld the ban, now and again a homeowner who felt menaced by a cat, or a state biologist sent to dispatch a cat that got too close to a town, or even this column has lamented that the law will likely be the law until someone's child is mauled or killed by a cougar.

That hasn't happened in Oregon.

It sure has in California, where an athletic, adult male mountain biker was killed in and partly consumed in the mountains outside the Los Angeles region in 2004.

His was only the sixth human death attributed to a cougar in California history. But it illustrates what is possible and why prudence is called for to handle predators in those patches of Oregon known as the andquot;urban/wildland interface.andquot;

Essentially, if you'll look out your window, that interface is all of Northeastern Oregon.

Cougars are predators, and they need territory. And when humans press into cougar territory to live or play, conflicts can arise. But humans aren't the only animals in that equation looking to expand their territory.

Whether in Baker City or New Bridge, the common denominator in cougar-human conflicts seems to be a young, often emaciated cougar. The theory: larger, healthier cougars have taken all the prime backcountry territory in the territory where the cat was a kitten.

As that cat grows up and strikes out on his or her own, the cat might find suitable habitat or wander all the way into your backyard.

That's not likely.

But when it starts happening with greater frequency, something needs to be done.

That's why we like the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's proposal to establish thresholds for cougar problems that would trigger a state response (andquot;State may try to prevent cougar problems,andquot; Jan. 12).

This isn't some Old West bounty on cougars. The proposed trigger levels for our area are reasonable:

o 13 cougars per year killed because they posed a threat to people, pets or livestock;

o 22 complaints about cougars for human or pet safety;

o 25 complaints about cougars and livestock.

The aim isn't to eradicate the animals, but to recognize when populations in certain parts of the state are exceeding the carrying capacity of available habitat.

If cougars and people are having dozens of problems in a given area, it's time to do something.

We hope the state wildlife commission and the citizens of Oregon will see this proposal for what it is: a reasonable wildlife management tool.