The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is considering a bill to allow hunters to pursue cougars with the help of dogs.
Why the need? Danny Martorello with the Department of Fish and Wildlife showed a map of Auburn with a blue line around it — it was the path of a GPS-tagged cougar, who visited the Auburn Supermall before returning to the wild.
Watch the hearing live here.
“We’re well aware of the controversial nature of this subject,” Martorello said. In response, they designed the pilot program — in which hunters have been allowed to hunt cougars in select areas — to be one of the most stringent in the state.
The average catch for the pilot program was a little more than 40 cougars killed per year in dog-assisted hunts.
Martorello said in the counties where cougar hunting was allowed in the pilot program, complaints about livestock killings, pet disappearances and cougar sightings dropped. “That’s not to say that the issues are gone,” he said, adding that the state still has a cougar problem.
He said they often hear that juvenile cats are the problem-causers. But they found that not to be the case.”We can see that … it’s a good mix of males and females, a good mix of adults and young adults,” he said, that are killing livestock and living near humans. “Those cats that live near people, it’s the full spectrum,” he said.
But Jennifer Hillman with the Humane Society of the U.S. says that this bill “expressly goes against the will of the voters,” referring to the 1996 initiative banning dog-assisted cougar hunts. She said sport-hunting cougars is not acceptable as a way to control cougar populations. “Any hounding of cougars that appears to be for sport goes directly against (the initiative) … it is not a means of cougar population management as much as it is sport hunting.”
Lee Barker, a concerned citizen, brought his dog to the hearing. He put the small dog on the hearing table and showed some scars from when his dog was attacked by a cougar. He said the attack happened before the pilot program.
And Keith Kreps with the Washington Cattlemen’s Association said he’s had as many as 20 calves disappear in a year. That was before the pilot program. He said once the pilot program began, he and his fellow ranchers killed a cougar. This year, he only lost 12 calves: proof, he said, that it works.