The Spokesman April 11 article “Washington wildlife managers approve more liberal cougar hunting rules” failed to report the full story. The Fish and Wildlife Commission ignored the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s own extensive cougar research, threatening cougar population stability and likely increasing conflict. As a former DFW scientist, I participated in a 20-year team effort to understand cougar biology in Washington.
Since 2000, DFW and Washington State University invested nearly $9 million studying Washington cougars. This expenditure was made because of the key role predators play in healthy ecosystems and the need to limit human-cougar conflict based on science. By tracking hundreds of cougars, DFW gained a detailed knowledge of cougar population dynamics.
We learned cougars distribute through territorial behavior, which limits the numbers found in any area. There were no differences in density in areas with different hunting removals, but the ages of cougars filling in were different. Where hunters killed more cougars, territories opened, attracting younger dispersing males, resulting in unstable populations. This contrasted to areas with fewer cougars killed and older males and stable territories and populations.
With the commission’s decision to kill more cougars in 19 units because they assumed there were higher densities (undocumented by research), we can expect more young males to fill vacant territories, and wander more widely and likely increase human-cougar interactions and conflict.
The commission should have known better. Less politics, more science. We do applaud Commissioners Baker, Graybill and Smith who chose science and voted “no”.