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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Three Washington bills deal with cougars, hounds

This March 8, 2006, photo provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows a cougar in the Beulah Wildlife Management Unit in Oregon's Malheur County. Two bills dealing with cougars are in Washington state senate committee hearings Thursday. (Brian Wolfer / AP)

Two bills dealing with cougars are in state senate committee hearings Thursday.

Under Washington Senate Bill 5100, hunters would be allowed to use dogs to hunt cougars in certain game management units in Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Chelan, Okanogan, Mason and Klickitat counties.

The bill will be reviewed in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks, Thursday.

Using dogs to hunt cougars was outlawed in 1996. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife remains neutral on SB 5100, according to Becky Bennett, a spokeswoman for the agency’s enforcement program.

The other cougar-related bill going to committee is SB 5320. This bill would allow contracted houndsmen to train their dogs by nonlethally chasing cougars, black bears and bobcats.

“We rely on them on a moment’s notice, so it’s imperative they keep their dogs in shape and ready to go,” Bennett said of the contractors.

Those houndsmen assist WDFW on depredation and conflict calls. The nonlethal training would be highly regulated, Bennett said.

The Spokane-based Lands Council does not support either bill. In an email, the Lands Council urged voters to “help protect cougars” by urging lawmakers to not advance either bill out of committee. The conservation group pointed out that the 1996 initiative outlawing hound hunting was approved by 63 percent.

A third bill, SB 1064, would make it illegal for WDFW to use dogs to kill cougars, black bears, bobcats or lynx. WDFW uses dogs to kill problem cougars and bears.

Bennett said under SB 1064, WDFW could still use dogs to tree cougars for research purposes. She said the bill, if passed, would make WDFW’s job harder.

“For us to be effective that often means we have to dispatch an animal,” Bennett said. “Without the use and aid of dogs, that’s an extremely tough task.”