Cougars in chaos. How a state hunting policy pushed Washington’s big cats to the brink. April 14, 2008. By Liza Gross. High Country News.

Earlier I posted. Special Washington cougar hunt backfires

Other states like Idaho and Oregon are headed down the same path.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

11 Responses to Washington State cougars pushed to the brink

  1. “Intensive hunting was creating chaos at both research sites. Mature male cougars maintain order by keeping the younger males in line, Wielgus says. Without them, the cougars’ home ranges and population densities were “shifting all over the place.” Infanticide had increased, and the cats were getting into far more trouble with humans. Mounting evidence suggests that inexperienced yearlings – the “hooligan” teenagers, as Wielgus calls them – are responsible for most attacks on people.”

    There’s probably a lesson in the above quote for wolf populations too. Allowing unrestricted hunting of predators (including coyotes and wolves) seems to cause more problems with human populations (right up until the predators are eliminated, of course).

  2. avatar Jon Way says:

    I am repeatedly amazed how people are so arrogant to think that we have to management everything. Leaving cougars alone would allow them to naturally stabilize their numbers.
    They are not deer and chaos would likely be not happen if cougars weren’t hunted. Same with coyotes…

  3. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    Wildlife managers are just about to make the same mistake with sea lions in my neighborhood near Bonneville Dam . . they are threatening to kill or remove sea lions who are eating salmon just below the fish ladders and soon it will be like all the adults left town and the teenagers are ruling. If you watch carefully now, a dominant male moves in and eats salmon, keeping the others away most of the time. Of course they will be the first removed by any “management”. As soon as the hunting with dogs ban came in Washington sighting reports that were even ridiculous were reported in the press . . two weeks after the ban passed someone saw a cougar by the schoolyard which left tracks . they said in the article that the cougar population had alread exploded. I looked at the tracks . . classic malamute tracks. I call this kind of wildlife exaggeration local terrorism. I do what I can on a daily basis to teach people how to life with animals. . but lots more needs to be done. I can no longer find cougars in the backcountry here . . there are a few in close, but that is because the deer and elk have had to resort to golf courses and parks to eat. . and cougars who prefer their traditonal foods must follow them.

  4. avatar Howard says:

    I agree with Jon Way’s comment. I think there is the conception among some people that any animal species that is not either endangered or being actively culled is “out of control”, “exploding in numbers”, etc. This doesn’t mean that individual cougars, wolves, etc. that cause real problems shouldn’t be removed, nor does it mean there can’t be surplus based cougar or wolf hunts (which I don’t like at all, but which I wouldn’t fight legally if they were indeed fair chase hunts based on population surplus), but I think the assumption that any animal that is not being regularly killed to maintain a certain number is being mismanaged and running amok is false. This assumption, however, seems very pervasive. Hunting is a necessary population control tool with creatures like deer; it probably isn’t with cougars. Again, if a state’s cougar population will not be harmed from a limited hunt, and people really want to experience hunting a cougar, I wouldn’t legally oppose that, but it must be acknowledged that it is not an ecological necessity…continuing to present things like Washington’s cougar plan as necessary population management clouds the realities of managing and conserving large predators.

  5. avatar Mike Post says:

    Come to California if you want to see mountain lions. We have them living inside the city limits of Los Angeles and even getting run over on our northern freeways on rare occasions. They are not the least bit afraid of humans after over 2 decades of hunting moritorium. Bad management is one thing, but good science based management hunting conducted on a regular basis in some form does one very necessary thing aside from population control; it teaches a large predator species that humans are dangerous, and that keeps all the rest of those predators and their neighbor humans alive. That kind of conditioning is obvious on any western ranch. Coyotes stay at least 1000 yards from a pickup truck thats moving, and if it stops, they put the horizon between them and the truck. If lions acted the same way, there would be much less fear and over reaction to sightings and fewer attacks on humans or their animals. In California at least, right now humans are just an odd and untested habitat competitor that inspires no fear or risk aversion in the lion population.

  6. avatar Ryan says:

    “Wildlife managers are just about to make the same mistake with sea lions in my neighborhood near Bonneville Dam . . they are threatening to kill or remove sea lions who are eating salmon just below the fish ladders and soon it will be like all the adults left town and the teenagers are ruling.”

    Linda,
    Have you ever read up on Ballard locks and what happened there. You could not be more wrong with your assessment of whats happening.

    If not here is a little background for you.
    http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/releases99/may99/noaa99r128.html

    http://www.columbian.com/business/businessNews/2008/02/02192008_Washington-View-Sea-lion-story-may-have-unhappy-ending-for-fish.cfm

    As for the cat problem

    “Intensive hunting was creating chaos at both research sites. Mature male cougars maintain order by keeping the younger males in line, Wielgus says. Without them, the cougars’ home ranges and population densities were “shifting all over the place.” Infanticide had increased, and the cats were getting into far more trouble with humans. Mounting evidence suggests that inexperienced yearlings – the “hooligan” teenagers, as Wielgus calls them – are responsible for most attacks on people.”

    Mature males do not maintain order, they drive the young males into conflict. They do not tolerate other males in territory. If you look at pre mesure 18 in oregon there were very few issues. Hound hunters were effectively managing populations by removing large males creating more availiable habitat for juvenilles. The walt disney theory that its all Kumbayah is false. As for infanticide its what happens in almost all apex predators life cycles. Adult boars kill cubs, alpha male wolves kill cubs, as do adult toms it was that way long before man came into play.

    The biggest problem facing apex predators is habituation to man in the lower 48. Hunting serves as a vehicle to reinstall this fear and protect both species.

  7. avatar JB says:

    Ryan says: “The biggest problem facing apex predators is habituation to man in the lower 48.”

    I would argue the problems faced by predators vary considerably depending upon the species and the particular place in which it resides. Habituation and human feeding is becoming a big problem with black bears in the East and has been a problem for the grizzly in the West. However, a much bigger problem for the grizzly is the lack of suitable habitat. Habituation has also been a minor problem with cougars, though the underlying cause is the continued expansion of human populations into cougar habitat. When compared with other problems, habituation doesn’t even make the list for wolves (conflicts with livestock, illegal (and now legal) killings, delisting, lack of suitable habitat, etc.).

    IMO, the most ubiquitous problems for predators–at least in the West–are (1) the continued human population growth and the associated suburban/exurbanization, (2) lack of the political will to protect predators in the face of well organized and extremely vocal opposition from ranchers and ill-informed “cabela queens.”

  8. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    I get really tired of people assuming because I sign my posts with the name Linda that I have walt disney theories of wildlfe behavior. The statements I make about wildlife are not from newspapers or television which I have not watched in 30 years, but from o b s e r v a t i o n s in the field. Now, I may be wrong about the sea lions but what I have seen without someone else telling me what to believe or think is that a few individuals are doing all the damage. My solution to that may not be right but it is an IDEA, thinking outside the box for solutions not just reguritating what someone else thinks. I know and knew about Ballard locks for a long time and they tried all different approaches. . I might be dead wrong but since my idea is one that hasn’t been tired who is to day it is wrong? About cougars . . again anyone who thinks because there are a cougars in town that cougar populations have exploded have not looked in the backcountry and made their own observations. I don’t mind a disscussion between people who are trying to figure out things but I get a little upset when people get all their facts from the “news”. I would much rather read original thinkings on issues, and I really value opinions from people who have done their own research.

  9. avatar Ryan says:

    Linda,
    I sit in a boat at oregon city and bonneville watching the carnage that happens 30+ days a year.. All of the sea lions gorge on fish not just a few. The wild ESA listed winter steelhead on the willamette are taking it on the nose as well. I predict the willamette river wild winter steelhead will be endangered (as opposed to threatned) within the next 10 years due in large part to sea lion predation. I don’t know about eastern washington back country, I know that my friends who own 400 acres north of cheney have killed 8 off there place that werw harassing/killing calfs in the last 10 years. As for oregon I spend roughly 6 weeks (spread out through the year) hiking and hunting in the back country all around the state and if anything our cat numbers are up, way up. I used to never see them, now I see 3 or 4 a year.

  10. avatar Jim says:

    A 150LB cougar was killed yesterday in Chicago. It is unknown if it is wild or a pet.

  11. avatar Howard says:

    Cougars are definitely moving east (the Cougar Network is a great source of information on this), although almost all confirmed wild cougars have been west of the Mississippi in Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota (except of course Florida). There have, however, been confirmed cougar sightings in Illinois. Virtually all of these cats are dispersing males; I do not believe there is any confirmed cougar reproduction in any state east of South Dakota. I don’t know any details of the Chicago cat; I would guess that a cougar within Chicago’s city limit was a released captive.

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