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Animal Rights Groups Challenge Washington Cougar Hunt Quota

More than 200 cougars a year are killed by hunters in Washington. Animal rights' organizations are asking the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to change its recent decision to increase the cougar quota in some hunting units. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
More than 200 cougars a year are killed by hunters in Washington. Animal rights' organizations are asking the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to change its recent decision to increase the cougar quota in some hunting units. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
July 6, 2015

SEATTLE – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is being asked to rethink its decision to allow more cougars to be killed during hunting season.

The recommended quota, based on in-state university research, has been 12 to 16 percent of the cougar population – but the commission increased the number to 17 to 21 percent in some hunting management units.

The Humane Society of the United States says there's no scientific justification for it. Dan Paul, the society's Washington director, says cougars often inhabit wolf country – and since wolves are off-limits to hunters in the state, he suspects cougars are paying the price.

"This is not about cougar management at all, and this is not about public safety," he says. "We already have the ability to take care of 'problem cats.' This appears to be targeting cats as a way to appease folks that want to shoot wolves, but can't."

The Fish and Wildlife Commission proposed a higher quota for the next three years, then dropped it to one year. The Humane Society and other groups have petitioned for a return to the original quota. The commission has 60 days to respond.

Estimates put Washington's cougar population at over 3,000 animals, with more than 200 a year killed by hunters.

Paul describes the state's cougar population as stable and healthy. One concern with a higher quota is it could change the dynamics of that otherwise healthy population. He says the "trophy animals" sought by hunters are adult male cougars – and when there are fewer of them, younger males become more dominant. That, he says, is trouble.

"The young cougars will move in, and they don't know how to interact with people well, so they're going to create conflict," he says. "This whole plan is really convoluted, because you're killing more cougars. But they're going to make these new cats, way less experienced, and have way more problems."

According to research cited in the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Game Management Plan, even increasing hunting quotas to 24 percent wouldn't affect the number of cougar-human conflicts.

Cougar hunting season begins September 1.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA