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More Cougars Fair Game? Groups Protest WA Hunting Quota

Local residents look on as Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife biologists outfit a sedated cougar with a GPS collar for their long-term research. Credit: Bill Hebner
Local residents look on as Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife biologists outfit a sedated cougar with a GPS collar for their long-term research. Credit: Bill Hebner
September 28, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Jay Inslee is being asked to intervene in a dispute between the state Fish and Wildlife Commission and eight groups advocating for Washington's cougar population.

The commission decided this spring to increase the percentage of cougars that can be hunted in some areas. The groups contend that defies the state's own research about balancing the cougar population to minimize conflict with people and livestock.

Bob McCoy, a Washington volunteer with the Mountain Lion Foundation, explains cougars stake out wide-ranging territories and killing more of them creates conflict among the remaining males, and leaves cougar kittens without mothers.

"It's increasing the hunting to a point that it will end up with a younger population of cats," McCoy says. "They're the ones that are usually looking for territories, so they're the ones we suspect are most likely to be causing problems."

The groups say the state spent about $5 million and more than a decade on research that found a hunting quota of 12 to 16 percent satisfies hunters without doing permanent damage to the cougar population.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission has raised the quota to 17 to 21 percent, primarily in northeastern Washington.

The groups say the commission got pressure from ranchers concerned about predators. The ranchers aren't allowed under Washington law to kill wolves, but Tim Coleman, director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group, says that shouldn't be a justification for killing more cougars.

"The two predators will keep each other in check, and we know that from experience, and we also know that their habitat is based on prey availability," says Coleman. "Nature achieves a balance between the two species. But what the commission's plan is, is unnatural."

The groups also contend the hunting quotas were increased without sufficient chance for public comment.

The governor has about a month to rule on the appeal.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA