Local law enforcement agencies will have to share data on how many cougars they kill to be eligible for some state money, according to a proviso in the new Washington state operating budget.
They will also have to agree, in writing, that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has management authority over cougars.
Per the provision, law enforcement agencies must provide a report to the Legislature by January on the “number of cougars reported to the department as harvested by local government law enforcement agencies, training opportunities provided to local law enforcement agencies, and how cougar removals by local enforcement agencies impact the department’s cougar management strategies.” The language is on page 331 of Senate Bill 5092.
In return, the Legislature set aside $100,000 split equally between 2022 and 2023 for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to “assist local jurisdictions in responding to cougar-related public safety issues.”
That money is available only if the local jurisdictions have a signed agreement acknowledging that WDFW has cougar management authority. The jurisdictions must also have criteria outlining when a cougar represents a “actionable” public safety threat.
“For the purposes of this subsection, a cougar presence on private property alone does not create an actionable public safety risk,” the bill states.
The proviso is in response to Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer organizing a 140-member posse to respond to problem cougars in the name of public safety. Stevens and Ferry counties also have started killing problem cougars and urging people to report “dangerous wildlife” to the sheriff’s department. Those two counties, however, opted to hire a dedicated wildlife specialist who covers that area.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife killed 99 cougars statewide and 69 in Region 1 last year. This year, WDFW has killed 23 cougars statewide and 10 in Region 1. The number of cougars killed by county sheriff offices isn’t necessarily reported to WDFW.
The bill provision was introduced by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.
“We want to make sure all cougar kills made by law enforcement are done lawfully and in accordance with state procedures based on scientific research and statewide management protocols. Local law enforcement may remove cougars for public safety reasons under current law, and nothing in this proviso changes that. The proviso simply directs DFW to take into consideration the impact of actions on their management protocols,” Van De Wege said in an email. “This language ensures that DFW can get complete data on cougar encounters and kills involving a local law enforcement agency. As DFW is charged with managing our state’s wildlife populations and ensuring balance, the data is central to DFW’s ability to track and control overall health and population size, hunting opportunities, and other relevant concerns.”
The proviso was praised by the Mountain Lion Foundation’s Chris Bachman. The section stating that a cougar seen on private property does not “create and actionable public safety risk” is particularly important, he said.
“There are a lot of cougars being killed in the name of public safety that are not posing an immediate threat to anybody,” he said.
Mandating that cougars killed by sheriff departments be included in WDFW’s cougar harvest and season setting process is another important step, he said.
WDFW commissioner Kim Thorburn doesn’t think the proviso will change Sheriff Songer’s behavior, but it brings other benefits.
“I suspect that our officers would appreciate collaborative assistance from local public safety entities in responding to cougar incidents,” she said in an email. “Perhaps the carrot of a little bit of money will help.”
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