Wa. Rules on killing cougars loosened to protect people.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2001 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Rules on killing cougars loosened to protect people.

By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter

More cougars can be killed under new state rules intended to better protect people, their livestock and their pets from cougar attacks.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed Friday to liberalize rules for hunting the big cats with hounds — the most effective way to track, tree and kill a cougar.

The commission decided to authorize a hunt once 11 human and cougar "interactions" are reported in a given area. Four or more of those must be confirmed risks to human safety or predation on pets or livestock. Sightings of cougars could also count toward the 11 total.

Previously, the requirement was four confirmed risks to human safety or instances of predation, which many rural areas easily met — but seven sightings were also required. That requirement was harder to meet because not all sightings were reported in places where cougar sightings were common.

To address that, the commission dropped the minimum-sighting criterion.

The commission also changed the rules to allow the same hunter to kill more than one cat, restricted the hunts to owners of cougar-hunting dogs and restricted hunters to areas they know well.

The changes are controversial.

"We view this as a severe blow to (Initiative) 655 and a very blatant undercut of what the citizens of this state voted for," said Lisa Wathne of the Seattle office of The Humane Society of the United States, which backed the 1996 voter-approved initiative to ban hunting of cougars with dogs.

Wathne said the commission caved in to "fear-mongering" by hound hunters determined to pursue their sport.

"You have a small group of hound hunters in this state who are bound and determined to keep doing that," she said. "And if that means hyping up every incident with a cougar, that's what they will do."

But others were relieved.

"This is a step in the right direction," said Okanogan County Commissioner David Schulz. "It is much appreciated. I don't think it is adequate, but let's see how it works. This is so much better than what we had before."

Under the new policy, more cougars would be hunted: 74 cougars were targeted under the old rules last year, but now up to 109 cougars could be killed, depending on hunter success.

Twenty-three of the targeted 74 cougars were killed in 1999.

The new rules are intended to boost the success rate of the hunts, said Donny Martorello of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He stressed the new policy is in no way intended to create recreational hunting opportunities.

"This is a focused, last-resort tool," Martorello said.

There are anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 cougars statewide. Confirmed cases of attacks and predation have increased steeply since 1996, from 400 to 500 a year to about 900, Martorello said.

He attributed the increase to the state's improved tracking of encounters, not I-655.

He said the new rules would better recognize problem areas and boost hunters' success — within limits.

"We do not want to eradicate cougars," Martorello said. "They are a valued part of the ecosystem."

Lynda V. Mapes can be reached at 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com.
 
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