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State weighs continued use of dogs for hunting cougars

 
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 11:21 pm    Post subject: State weighs continued use of dogs for hunting cougars Reply with quote

New policy changes under consideration could soon change the way cougars are hunted in the state.

On Aug. 9, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials plan to decide whether to extend a 2004 program that allows the use of dogs to hunt cougars in five counties.

Officials heard expert briefing and public comments Friday about the program, which was approved by the Legislature in March. The plan would continue to allow hunters to hound cougars in Chelan, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties and would give other counties an opportunity to request legalizing hounding as well.

While allowing hunting to continue, the program also would reduce the cougar kill quotas by 40 percent in the five counties and lower the number of cougars a hunter can kill at one time from two to one.

The wildlife department began the 2004 program because of concerns about public safety and livestock loss, but some local activists dispute their methods. Brian Vincent with Big Wildlife, a pro-wildlife organization, said hunting cougars only worsens their conflicts with humans.

"This program goes after any cougar in the area, most of whom are innocent of any interaction with humans," he said.

Vincent cited research from Washington State University's Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, which shows that hunting creates "social disruption" in the cougar population by picking off the older animals that regulate the pack.

"The data shows that when you kill the old cougars that police the area, you really unleash the young hooligans that create more problems," he said.

When older cougars are gone, the youngsters are more likely to attack humans and livestock, Vincent said. Because of this, he wants the state to move its policies in the opposite direction by eliminating cougar hunting altogether and encouraging ranchers to put up fences or use guard dogs to control the wildlife population.

In King County, where cougar hounding is illegal, the number of cougar sightings has increased from 76 in 2003 to 148 last year. However, the cats appear far less frequently in urban areas than in rural parts of the state because of their dependence on deer for food, said Gary Koehler, a research scientist with the wildlife department.

Despite continued conflicts with ranchers, Vincent said there is no reason cougar hounding should continue.

"There is no need to trophy-hunt cats unless a hunter wants another head on the wall," he said.
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