February 15, 1999
OLYMPIA--A bill that would allow hunters to once again pursue cougars with dogs was passed out of the state Senate last week and now goes to the House of Representatives.
The northeastern Washington senator who sponsored SSB5001 recently told the Weekly that the change was needed for the health and safety of the public, as well as that of livestock.
"We have a population out of control. We need to have (Department of) Fish and Wildlife management of the species," said Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient (Stevens County).
But wildlife advocates said current law adequately addresses dangerous cats, and argued that repealing 1996's Initiative 655 would violate the will of the people.
"Sixty-three percent of the 1996 voters chose to prohibit this practice because it is cruel and unsportsmanlike," wrote Will Anderson, a Progressive Animal Welfare Society wildlife advocate in a letter to state senators.
Whether or not wildlife management by the people works, or has been given enough time to work, a large increase in cougar complaints and cougar-human encounters have led to calls for a repeal of the ban.
"Just in my district, we've had several incidents," Morton said, including an attack on a young girl near the Canada-Idaho-Washington border. He also said three pack horses and 24 cows have been killed by cats in his district, which includes all or parts of six counties.
Cougar sightings haven't been limited to backwoods area. One was spotted four blocks from the Governor's mansion, and a mountain lion attacked a small dog a mile from Woodinville's new theaters last September.
Human-cougar encounters can be linked to several factors. Housing has pushed up against former wildlands, and though PAWS questions it, the cougar population has doubled since the early 1980s, from 1,000 to roughly 2,500 today, according to the state.
Still, the repeal isn't needed, Anderson argued, because "current law allows anyone who feels their life or property is threatened by a cougar to kill the cougar. The [WDFW] also has the authority to kill or relocate dangerous cougar (sic)." He states that 48 were removed in 1997, and at least 32 in 1998.
PAWS considers it cruel, but game department officials have said that using dogs is the best way to hunt cougars. Hounds sniff out and pursue the cougar until it is cornered or treed, where the hunter dispatches it.
As it stands, the cougar harvest has dropped since the ban. In 1995, 283 cougars were killed, but in 1997 that number was down to 132. Anderson wrote that 132 kills is more cats than were taken in the pre-I-655 years of 1990, '91, and '93.
Morton's bill is limited to cougars and doesn't affect bears, bobcats, and baiting. "It's a needed bill. We, as the voters, made a mistake. We have to live that up," he said. The bill passed 33-14.