The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group is asking the region's residents about their cougar concerns.
"We don't believe (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) has a very good idea of the problem the residents of Northeast Washington are facing," said Dale Magart, secretary-treasurer for the group.
The group describes itself as citizens concerned about wildlife conservation and is composed of landowners, ranchers, hunters and fishermen. It has roughly 62 members, Magart said.
In recent years, the region's cougar populations have increased, impacting deer, elk and moose populations, he said.
With less prey, the cougars are moving closer to towns, Magart said. The growing wolf population is also forcing some cougars to move, he said.
The state estimates a population of 2.2 cougars per 36 square miles, but Magart estimates some areas' populations are "easily" double or triple that.
Magart expects the 2019 deer harvest to be the lowest on record when it is tallied.
"Guys just aren't seeing them, they're not out there," he said of game animals. "Certain places they are, yes, we hear stories from people, 'They're eating all my raspberries,' but you get off the beaten path ... or any of the higher elevations, there's no deer left."
The survey asks residents 11 "yes or no" questions, including:
• Do you believe there are too many cougars in NE Washington?
• Do you believe the number of cougars presents a public safety issue?
• Have you or anyone you know been in an uncomfortable position because of wolf or cougar presence?
• Have you or anyone you know had animals attacked or harassed by wolves or cougars?
• Does fear for your child's, or other youth's safety, due to predators, create a barrier to introducing them to hunting?
• Have you considered not buying a big game hunting license for 2020?
Magart hopes to receive 1,000 replies. The group plans to present the data and returned questionnaires to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting March 12-14 in the Tri-Cities.
"So they can see, Hey, this is what the people up here believe is happening," Magart said.
The survey will be included in the Chewelah, Wash., newspaper, with response boxes at various locations throughout the region.
The group wants replies signed and mailed back instead of returned electronically, Magart said.
"We feel maybe it will lend more validity to the fact this isn't just a somebody sitting in a backroom somewhere filling these things out," he said.
Fish and Wildlife staff have worked to bring forward options for changes to the cougar harvest management guidelines, said Staci Lehman, Eastern Washington communications manager for the department. WDFW will bring those proposed options to the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Tri-Cities in March, she said.
"As always with rule changes, members of the public have an opportunity to comment through the public comment process," Lehman told the Capital Press. "We welcome diverse opinions and expect to hear them through a robust public engagement process."
The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group meets at 6:30 p.m. every fourth Wednesday of the month at the Chewelah Casino.
For more information about the survey, email NWWG@outlook.com.