Culling cougars OK. Just don't enjoy it.

spectr17

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Culling cougars OK. Just don't enjoy it.

By BOB MOTTRAM, Tacoma News Tribune
August 22, 2001

- Yes, you can hunt cougars in Washington with dogs, in carefully controlled circumstances, in order to protect or enhance public safety.

But you can't enjoy it.

That's the message the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission believes the state Legislature sent it last year, and that's the message the commission is passing on to hound hunters.

The Legislature amended a law sponsored by an animal-rights organization and adopted by Washington voters in 1996, through the initiative process, that outlawed the use of hounds in hunting cougars, bears, bobcat and lynx. Lawmakers voted to allow limited hound-hunting in areas where conflicts between cougars and people had become unacceptably high. They made their move because of pressure from rural constituents who said conflicts had become too frequent in the aftermath of the hound-hunting ban.

But the legislators indicated that they acted only to protect the public safety, and didn't intend to allow the "recreational" hunting that so horrifies animal rightists.

So the Fish and Wildlife Commission found itself in its rules-making process trying to legislate attitude. Trying to prohibit "thought" crimes, if you will.

The commission was establishing a public-safety cougar-removal season for the coming winter; deciding when it should be, what factors should trigger its implementation in individual game-management units, who may participate and so forth. And it was tripping over itself trying to make the season something nobody would enjoy.

Commission member Don Heinicke of Wenatchee wanted to comb the proposed regulation and remove words such as "harvest," "hunter" and "season," and replace them with "take," "permittee" and "period." So that people would realize, he said, that these hunts were serious business. His commission colleagues talked him out of that.

Commission member Dawn Reynolds of Pullman, Wash., a minority of one who eventually voted against the proposal, wanted to know, "What makes this not a recreational hunt?"

Most of the hunters who testified picked up on the anti-enjoyment message and got into the rhythm.

But not all.

Bill White, who ranches near Twisp in Okanogan County, keeps hounds that he said he uses only to help the department with its public-safety hunts.

He appeared unimpressed by all the pussyfooting. And so, in that direct way that many country people demonstrate, he strode directly into the lion's den and pulled the lion's beard.

"We get no money (for helping the department chase cougars)," he told the commission. "Do we enjoy it? Why else would we do it?"

Ouch!

The commission appeared to be set on establishing a pursuit-only season, also, aimed at teaching the big cats that it's not a good idea to mess with people or with dogs, many of which they now snatch from people's porches for a meal. The commission calls this "behavior modification." It appeared to be on the brink of passage Friday, but the commission postponed action until December to allow time for public notice and public input.

Besides possibly modifying cat behavior, the season would give hound-hunters an opportunity to train their dogs, commission members said. Without trained dogs there would be no public-safety hunts.

Donny Martorello, the department's large-predator specialist, said the department wasn't recommending pursuit-only seasons because evidence is not conclusive that they increase public safety. The department's position, he said, was that when a hunter runs a cougar up a tree, he or she should kill it, within preset quotas. After all, a dead cougar is the safest kind of cougar, the agency pointed out.

Scientific evidence might be lacking, but anecdotal evidence indicates that cougars do change their behavior. Ed Mahany of Maple Valley, who has hound-hunted cougars for decades, said he has chased the cats many times with the department to outfit them with radio-transmitter collars. Then he's hunted them some more to replace the collars' batteries or whatever.

Such cougars, he said, do their best to avoid contact with humans.

"When you chase a cougar that's been chased and caught three or four times," he told the commission, "when you get out of your truck you'd better be moving because that cougar will be."

With such a cat, Mahany said, the sounds of car doors, men's voices or dogs will put them right to flight.

Several citizens complained to the commission about the growing frequency and danger of cougar-human encounters. Several hound-hunters urged the commission to add a pursuit-only season.

Three persons spoke for the other side. One was a gentleman from Seattle who told the commission that cougars shouldn't be killed in any case because they are "magnificent" animals that are vital to the ecosystem. They remove the old, the sick and the weak from the prey base, he said, unlike human hunters.

Which sounds as if it could have come right off the PETA web site. And which demonstrates how rhetoric takes on a life of its own as people pass it around.

Fact is, cougars are ambush hunters. Ambush hunters do not select for the old, the sick and the weak.

Cougars no more cull the unfit than do rattlesnakes. And for the same reason.
 

Steve K

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Spectr 17,  What is your definition of "Pursuit- Only"
                          Thank You   Steve K
 

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