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Ranchers, researchers split on cougar results

Matthew Weaver
Researchers and ranchers are split on the effectiveness of new Washington regulations for cougars following a study recommending fewer kills.

Based on Washington State University Large Carnivore Conservation Lab director Rob Wielgus’ 15-year study on cougar behavior, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife adopted new regulations in September 2012.

Wielgus recommended removing fewer cougars, saying the removal of mature tom cougars left more aggressive younger males and increasing conflicts with livestock.

Wielgus said most feedback has been positive.

“Some folks don’t like it, and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “I would say, give it time to see. My understanding is that a lot of our problems during the cougar wars have since dissipated, have basically gone away. I think the new policies have been very effective.”

Washington State Cattlemen's Association executive vice president Jack Field disagrees with the measured results of the new regulations. He said he still hears from members throughout the state that “it’s clearly not working,” particularly in hotspots for cougar activity in western Klickitat County and eastern Lewis County.

“We’ve got way too many cats occupying far too many portions of the habitat, to the point where if there’s a possible area where it could house a cougar, there are cougars there,” he said.

Field believes frustrated landowners are not contacting the department, noting the ability to remove a problem cougar is “extremely difficult” even when a cougar kill is confirmed.

He said cougar harvest quotas can be filled too early, reducing managed cougar hunts with dogs later, which can make for a selective harvest. He would like to remove quotas in areas with livestock production or near populated areas.

Wielgus isn’t certain how comparable cougar data would be to wolves, since the two animals are so different.



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