Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Animal activists: Don’t link cougar hunts to wolf recovery

Don Jenkins
Capital Press
Courtesy of Rich Beausoleil/WDFW Animal-rights and conservation groups are petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Commission to reverse plans to allow more cougars to be hunted in regions occupied by wolves.
Animal-rights and conservation groups are petitioning Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to ditch a plan to hunt allow more cougar hunting to relieve tensions over wolves.

The Humane Society of the United States and other animal activist groups are petitioning the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to backtrack on its decision to let hunters shoot more cougars in regions inhabited by wolves.

The commission authorized the increase as a sympathetic nod toward northeast Washington, where the state’s wolves are concentrated. The Humane Society-led coalition argues the move is scientifically unsound and nonsensical.

“It is unreasonable to expect that social tolerance of wolves will improve when the same number of wolves will be managed in the same way,” the coalition states in its petition to the commission.

Cougars were drawn into the debate over wolf recovery in April when the commission set quotas for the 2015-16 cougar season. In line with past practice, Fish and Wildlife managers recommended harvesting 12 to 16 percent of the cougars in 49 game units.

The commission, however, raised the limit to 17 to 21 percent in the 14 units where wolves are known to roam. The harvest could be increased by about 25 cougars, according to WDFW staff. Some 177 cougars were harvested statewide during the 2014 hunting season.

WDFW biologists say the increased hunting probably will not lower the overall cougar population, but it could open up territory for juvenile males to venture.

Commissioner Miranda Wecker said Wednesday she proposed the higher cougar quotas in wolf pack country mindful that support for wolf recovery has deteriorated in northeast Washington. She said he wanted residents there to have more control over predators.

“It was a signal, a message to Eastern Washington communities who feel overwhelmed, who feel their interests are being neglected,” said Wecker, who lives in Pacific County in Western Washington. “If you ignore communities and the desires of communities that live among predators, I think that makes things worse.”

Wecker said she viewed her amendment as minor and that she was surprised by the outcry. “I did not expect that, I have to admit,” she said.

So far, the commission has stuck with its decision, though it will discuss the Humane Society’s petition during a conference call Friday.

State Rep. Joel Kretz, who represents northeast Washington, said the region has lots of cougars and some may view the higher quota as a sympathetic gesture. “I’m disappointed frankly in the folks against it. It’s a modest tweak,” he said.

Kretz, nevertheless, said he’s looking for stronger action on wolves from wildlife officials, particularly against the Huckleberry pack in Stevens County. The pack preyed on sheep last year and recently seriously injured a dog protecting a flock.

“My preference is they would show a little more resolve,” Kretz said. “I think the pack ought to be eliminated, at least cut down.”

The other petitioners are Conservation Northwest, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Mountain Lion Foundation, Wolf Haven International, The Cougar Fund, The Lands Council, Predator Defense, Kettle Range Conservation Group and Gary Koehler, a retired WDFW research scientist.

They complain that they were blindsided by the commission’s jettison of the staff’s recommendation to maintain current quotas.

More hunting won’t reduce the overall population, but it will threaten “social dynamics and population structure” and lead to more clashes between juvenile males and humans and livestock, they state.