Washington’s Governor Nixes Radical Cougar-Killing Plan

By on October 21, 2015 with 13 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

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.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. David Bernazani says:

    Wayne Pacelle’s is right: I expect– and we all should demand– better from our elected legislators and wildlife commissions, who should be protecting our wildlife, not recklessly abandoning previously enacted safeguards and allowing greedy trophy hunters to kill at will.

  2. Nogero says:

    I am glad to see WA stopped this nonsense. My state OR is going ahead despite all the objections. Help us if you can. I’ve lived with lions and bears routinely around my yard for 28 years. Never had a problem with them.

  3. CAMPMEAT says:

    Cougars need to be managed in Washington State, not by, NOT killing them. Cougars are a huge problem where I live. They kill 2 deer a week, plus farm animals. They attack children at bus stops too. WDFW is controlled by groups like HSUS and others.

  4. John W says:

    Cougars are at or above full carrying capacity – the total number of animals that can be sustained throughout the year without harm to the wildlife or the habitat – all over the state of WA. With the introduction of the grey wolf, there has been increased pressure on the ungulate herds (elk, deer, sheep), and increased human/wildlife conflict, statewide. As you may or may not be aware, when cougar populations exceed carrying capacity, the adolescent males are pushed further and further into human populations. This causes conflict and is a danger to both the wildlife and to human, pets, livestock, etc. Hunters are the tool of all wildlife agencies nationwide, to cull surplus animals, keeping wildlife populations healthy and abundant. Contrary to propaganda and myth, without hunters, many of our wildlife species wouldn’t exist today. The governor’s decision to pander to animal rights groups instead of relying on his hired experts in the field shows ignorance to proper wildlife management practices and stands in opposition to scientific study, contrary to claims by this organization. Wildlife management by popular opinion is mind-numbingly stupid. When the state wildlife biologists say that it’s time to thin the herd, they do so only after intensive research. You people claim to love animals, as do I. If you’re telling the truth about that, you’d support the experts in the field. I suggest that when you don’t your goals are other than those which are in keeping with wildlife’s best interests.

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi John, I am the blog editor. According to Wendy Keefover, The HSUS’s National Carnivore Protection Manager, cougar populations are limited by access to nutrition (their prey) and persecution (trophy hunting, aggression between themselves and other native carnivores). Studies indicate in habitats where multiple carnivores exist, cougars have an even harder time surviving and that where wolves and cougars share habitat, less human hunting pressure on cougars is necessary to protect their subpopulations from blinking out.

      Fifteen years of study in Washington show that the human persecution of cougars destabilizes their social structure and results in more cougars mortalities and more livestock losses and complaints.

      When the stable adult population is removed (the animals most likely not to kill livestock or come into conflicts with people), young males (called “subadults”) fill these territorial vacancies. Where there used to be one adult male, he is replaced with multiple subadult males all vying for his territory and mates.

      Empirical data from 15 years of Washington-based cougar studies show that killing cougars destabilizes their social structure. As a consequence, the empty territories see an influx of subadult males who commit intraspecific aggression on each other and on breeding females. They also commit infanticide on the previous male’s kittens. With the human killing of a single cougar (either because of trophy hunting or overzealous “control” actions), the result in Washington is more cougars and even greater cougar mortalities to the most vulnerable members of their population—the females and kittens.

      A brand new study in Science shows that humans, not cougars, are the super predators of deer, elk, bighorn sheep and other ungulate populations. Furthermore, if we cannot learn to live with top-level carnivores, we will wipe them out—as they have been in most of the United States already because of historic persecution campaigns. Yet, without top carnivores, the planet loses biological diversity and ecosystem integrity.

      The solution in Washington is to stop trophy hunting cougars and to co-exist with them, including livestock growers taking precautionary husbandry measures to protect livestock from the miniscule number of depredations caused by carnivores. Studies indicate that most Washingtonians, over 90%, value cougars intrinsically and see them as important ecosystem actors.

      • mark k says:

        I believe the article you are referencing is the work of Rob Wielgus at WSU. One interesting point of note from his research is;
        “After years of data collection, researchers made a surprising observation. Whether hunters killed 10 percent or 35 percent of cougars, the population remained the same.”

    • CAMPMEAT says:

      I agree 100% with John W…

    • David Bernazani says:

      John: these state commissions are usually comprised of people who either like to hunt themselves, or are allied with pro-hunting interests. They slant their opinions and suggestions to encourage the state to increase hunters’ access to their victims.
      The same situation was revealed here in California a few years ago when the Fish & Game Commission president Daniel Richards was revealed to have killed a cougar in another state (since it’s illegal here). It turns out he was an avid big-game hunter.
      These kind of people have no business being members of commissions which are supposed to protect the state’s wildlife, not find new ways to hunt them. The governor of Washington was right in not “relying on his hired experts” and bending to their will.

  5. Heidy Breed says:

    Animals are defenceles against hunters and hunters love to kill!
    The animals have rhe right to live and have the right to be protected. To many people kill al the beauty animals on this world. I am ashamed if I have to tell my grandchildren what growingup people do . They distroy everything because they are heartles and greedy.

  6. Anirban (aka Abner) Bhattacharya says:

    I am a person who agrees with Rush H. Limbaugh & Patrick J. Buchanan on hunting-hunting for food is fine but hunting for sport is wrong. I can tolerate hunting wild goats, deer, ducks, pheasants, hares, rabbits & squirrels for food as long as animal is quickly killed & eaten for food. But I can’t tolerate hunting animals just because it’s there. Also have thoughts to cull hunting.

    Now yes, you can have excess bobcats, cougars, wolves, foxes & coyotes attacking pets & livestock. Yes, you can have diseases such as parvo. If they can avoid hunting them & put them in zoos, then that would be better. If they are to be hunted, then it must be done by wildlife officials to cull diseases & not private hunters. But before they are, then there should be biological statements which show that culling is only choice & there should be public input. They should do what they can to avoid hunting bobcats, cougars, wolves, foxes & coyotes because these animals aren’t food & we don’t need fur coats anymore to stay warm.

    If cull is needed to prevent overpopulation, then that can be done by wildlife officials since these are not food hunts. Problem with these hunts is that people take more than what is allowed.They could require cameras & have wildlife officials monitor these cull hunts. With govt. doing aerial shootings by helicopter of wolves, foxes, coyotes & other animals to prevent overpopulation & diseases. Public input in most cases given before it’s authorized. @least here there is less possibility of over hunting & there are statistics (hopefully honest) kept on how many wolves, foxes, etc. were killed in cull hunts.

  7. Cody Martin says:

    The ignorance spewed here is incredible- if not for the dedication of sportsmen throughout history, there would be no wildlife, period- for anyone to respect, admire, enjoy, pursue, harvest, etc. This country’s treatment of its wildlife resources ha been at times deplorable, and throughout the only faction of America that that has stood staunchly in defense of, and singlehandedly funded, wildlife as a whole, are sportsmen. Educate yourselves about the natural world

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