A formal petition has been filed that asks the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission to reverse their recent decision, which aggressively raises the trophy hunt quota on cougars. The petition has been filed by The Humane Society of the United States, along with other organizations and Dr. Gary Koehler, former Research Scientist for Carnivore Investigations with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.
In April, within a mere two-minute exchange, the Commission abruptly circumvented science and representative democracy by raising the hunting quota for wild cougars by 50 to 100 percent in some areas of the state without providing prior notice to the public, giving the public an opportunity to comment, and without the benefit of a formal presentation by the DFW’s own biologists.
The petitioners are asking for the quota to be pushed back to a scientifically justifiable number and ask that the Department initiate a public rulemaking process that allows stakeholders to comment.
“Today’s petition demonstrates that we value our wildlife in Washington far too much to stand by and let this happen. The ripple effect of its two-minute decision to turn its back on the public and sound science by raising the quota is immense. We ask the Commission to reverse this undemocratic and biologically unsound decision,” says Dan Paul, Washington State Director for The HSUS
Many stakeholders with serious concerns as to the lack of scientific support for the change and its potential for adverse ecological consequences weren’t made aware of the amendment unless they happened to be sitting in the hearing room and no citizens had an opportunity to comment on the amendment before the Commission abruptly passed its vote on this highly-contentious issue.
Since the decision, more than 1,300 citizens have written to the Commission opposing its decision to permit the trophy hunting of more wild cougars. This decision was made as a result of secret meetings between the Department and the Commission.
The Commission specifically raised the quota on cougars by 50 to 100 percent in game management units where wolves live, counter to what some agency biologists have recommended in the past, and not in keeping with the best available science.
Commissioners ignored the state’s own science when they approved a deal that will allow hunters to kill more of Washington’s wild cougars. The decision throws out 13 years of Washington-based research that was taxpayer funded. In 13 years of study, funded by $5 million worth of taxpayer dollars, cougar biologists found that the big cat’s population must be carefully monitored and hunting of these iconic animals calibrated to ensure that cougar societies are not shifted into chaos. Stable cougar societies reduces human-cougar conflicts and keeps livestock safe.
When hunters kill a dominant male cougar, it creates a domino effect of social chaos in the cougar society. Sub-adult male, the “teenagers”, vie for a territory. Adolescent cougars are less skilled at hunting. This means they are more likely to prey on livestock or kill pet dogs or cats, increasing both human and livestock conflicts. Without the territorial tom cats in place, these teenagers wreak territories, increasing strife between cougars themselves, including increasing the infanticide on kittens not their sire.
And if a hunter kills a female cougar, orphaned kittens are too often left behind. Female cougars give birth all year long, not just in the springtime. Since cougars are not fully able to hunt on their own until they are 15 to 16 months old, orphaned kittens are more likely to go for easy prey, like domestic pets or livestock. The Commission’s increase in cougar-hunting quota will also mean that more females with kittens will likely be killed in the trophy hunt, causing additional welfare concerns.
Washington is home to an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 cougars.