This week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee granted an appeal made by The HSUS along with other animal protection and conservation groups and reversed the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s 7 -1 decision to dramatically expand cougar hunting in the state. The governor’s intervention spared dozens of cougars a miserable fate. In April, the Commission introduced the quota increase – which amounts to a doubling in some areas – via a last-minute oral amendment that was not subject to public notice or comment.
Gov. Inslee agreed with our position that the difference between the final quotas and the proposed quotas was substantial enough to have triggered public process requirements. He also took note of the fact that the science supporting the prior quotas appears to contradict the agency’s decision to raise them.
It was 19 years ago that voters in Washington outlawed the practice of trophy hunters using packs of hounds to chase and tree cougars. This was an altogether unsporting set-up for a hunter, who can then walk to the base of the tree and shoot the animal at point-blank range. The vote on I-655 was a landslide, with 63 percent of voters favoring the initiative, including voters throughout eastern Washington (the more rural and conservative side of the state).
Yet, since that time, a gaggle of state lawmakers has been working to unwind the ballot measure. They’ve sought to introduce experimental hound-hunting seasons. And the Fish and Wildlife Commission has tried repeatedly to expand quotas and liberalize other elements of the hunting season. We’ve done our best to hold the line, fending off an outright repeal of this portion of the ballot measure. This latest maneuver from the Commission also went too far, and that’s when we appealed directly to Gov. Inslee to intervene.
Let’s be clear: nobody eats cougars. It is the purest form of trophy hunting in the United States outside of a captive hunting facility. And despite the hype and the fear-mongering, cougars are elusive and furtive, doing their best to stay away from people. In some communities, cougars co-exist very well in close proximity to people. In Washington, there has only been one attack on a person in the last 100 years.
It’s also important to note that wildlife scientists at Washington State University in Pullman have determined that the random shooting of cougars does nothing to minimize the already remote risk of a human encounter with a cougar. In fact, science shows that random killing of trophy animals may actually contribute to the prospect of an encounter, by shifting the age profile of the population from stable adults to younger, more inexperienced cougars who are more likely to have negative encounters with people or livestock.
At the same time that we passed the anti-hounding ballot measure in Washington nearly 20 years ago, we defended California’s ban on any trophy hunting of lions. Trophy-hunting groups got the issue on the ballot just six years after voters approved a measure there, and voters sent a second and consistent measure rebuffing them. California has more people and perhaps as many cougars as any state in the West, but hardly any adverse encounters.
Unfortunately, Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission recently approved a ramped-up scheme to slaughter cougars in four so-called “target zones” covering 6,200 square miles, despite overwhelming opposition from the public, state lawmakers, and a broad array of humane and conservation organizations.
Today, especially after the high-profile killing of Cecil, an African lion in Zimbabwe, the public has less of an appetite for trophy hunting than ever. We expect better of our lawmakers and wildlife commissioners than to set loose these trophy hunters.
We can end the era of hate and fear-mongering targeting North American carnivores, and accept their rightful place in their ecosystems. There’s so much negative mythology in circulation about them. Science tells us the animals contribute to ecosystem health and the data show they keep their distance from us. We humans can choose to live with cougars and other predators, without adverse consequences for us.