Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Ward Halcomb: Washington’s cougar hunting increase not aggressive enough

By Ward Halcomb

While the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking a more aggressive stance toward control of the cougar problem in Washington, it is too little too late. We need merely look to the neighboring state of Idaho to see how badly Washington’s current management program has failed.

We are now 24 years into a disastrous management program that was set into motion by a voter initiative which outlawed hounds for mountain lion and black bear hunting as well as outlawing baiting for black bears to aid in an efficient ethical harvest.

The initiative appealed to emotion rather than science. Hounds are the only efficient means of managing a mountain lion population that is currently consuming approximately 104,000 deer annually from the lands of Washington state. (2,000+ cats averaging one deer per week)

Washington’s elk and deer numbers have plummeted in the last 24 years, while North Idaho boasts excellent hunting for elk and deer. Idaho also has a healthy population of mountain lions, black bears, wolves and grizzlies. What are the key differences between these similar habitats?

The difference between our states is that Idaho incorporates sound and efficient predator management while Washington state does little to halt the population explosion of cougars, black bears and wolves. Unfortunately, politics plays a huge part in the failures of WDFW.

State biologists interviewed off the record for this article state that Washington deer and elk are failing massively due to our unwillingness to control predators. A state biologist interviewed off the record stated that ungulate numbers will continue to fall until hunting opportunities for deer and elk are virtually nonexistent for the average Washingtonian. Hunters themselves recently petitioned to stop antlerless deer seasons in Eastern Washington because the deer simply aren’t there anymore. Washington hunter numbers decline, and more revenue leaves our state as Idaho, Oregon and Montana offer far better hunting opportunities for deer and elk.

A healthy mountain lion population is desired by conservationist-hunter and anti-hunter alike, but it is the healthy meat from deer and elk that will sustain Washington families in the current world atmosphere of pandemics and food shortages. A robust and sustainable population of deer and elk is crucial to our society. Hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing generates $7.6 billion in revenue yearly in Washington. Wildlife budgets are being slashed, as hunter recruitment is at an all-time low. WDFW cowers to environmental groups while struggling to locate revenue to keep the lights on.

In Spokane County in the last three years I myself have lost two pack animals to depredation by mountain lions. Both times the stock-killing cougar was pursued by state employed game wardens and hound handlers. Livestock depredation has gone through the roof statewide. The state houndsmen have stated on multiple podcasts how out of control lion and bear depredation is in Washington. We waste money and resources reactively fighting depredation that could be handled proactively by sport hunters who would be providing our state revenue while also providing the valuable service of keeping our predator numbers at a manageable level.

Anti-hunting mountain lion advocates point to California as an example of proper management. It should be noted that currently California is desperately trying to figure out ways to get people to go hunting there, as their practically non-existent predator management program has decimated deer and elk herds. A recent Sacramento Bee article moans, “Hunting is fading away in California. That’s bad news for animals.”

Washington residents deserve a bountiful population of deer and elk so we may provide healthy, nutritious, antibiotic- and steroid-free meat to our families. We must demand that WDFW stop pandering to anti-hunting groups and actually do their job of prioritizing deer and elk herd health. Washington hunters foot the bill while being denied a reasonable chance to fill their freezers.

Science must prevail rather than politics. WDFW must do the right things rather than cower due to their fears of litigation.

Ward Halcomb is a lumber industry executive, retired law enforcement officer and ethical hunting wildlife advocate for backcountry hunters and anglers.