Special Washington cougar hunt backfires

Story in the Seattle Times. Is cougar hunting breeding chaos? By Sandi Doughton. Seattle Times science reporter.

Hunting large carnivores does not have easy, predictable effects; and a recent law passed and signed in Washington state due to increasing cougar attacks on livestock and pets in NE Washington appears to have had the opposite effect and was based on false assumptions (increasing cougar population). The result of the emergency hunt has been even more attacks (young, inexperienced, and not-too-bright cougars), and a big drop in the cougar population in the Selkirk Mountains.

Actually Washington has had a cougar hunt. It was a particular method of hunting that was banned years ago by the citizens. The method of hunting probably has as much of effect as the mere fact of hunting.

I should add that governor Gov. Christine Gregoire (Democrat) just signed a bill to expand the unsuccessful program. She is not wise about these issues. She is also behind letting livestock operators into state wildlife areas in NE Washington to graze (often for free!!!). These areas are mostly formerly private land purchased by taxpayer and ratepayer money. Western Watersheds Project has sued over the program.

I have posted a number of stories in the past about her “graze-the-wildlife-areas-for-free” program.



, ,




  1. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Ralph that is so strange. . the director of our local chamber of commerce just met with her and gave her my book (Lonesome for Bears) a week ago and Governor Gregoire mentioned that she is a huge fan of wildlife and wild places. The governor just announced a “Bear Awareness Week” from May 12 – 18 in Washington State, see: http://bearinfo.blogspot.com/

    I have long said, as a tracker, that all the reports of cougar interactions with humans was NOT a measure of how many cougars are out there, and that responding aggressively to those reports were going to make us lose our population completely. I am sorry to hear about the expanded hunt and the grazing report.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I ordered your book, and hope to get it soon.

    It’s good to hear another side to the governor.

  3. vicki Avatar

    Maybe she is under educated about the real facts surrounding control. Perhaps she is a person who could be persuaded to see the bigger picture.
    Cougar control was a hot topic this past Christmas in my home. My mother in law had informed me that her fiance filled eight deer tags. I asked how he could get that many. Appearantly there is a huge over population of mule deer in South Dakota. In the next sentence she told me that they had obtained a cougar tag as well. She said it was hard to get tags for a lion because they were very limited.
    I found it ironic that a state with a deer problem (huge amounts of car accidents, extensive damage to forests) would issues tags for the one predator besides humans that would help to control the deer numbers.
    I think cougars are widely misunderstood. They have began to be closer to humans, because they are running out of space, and their prey is becoming harder to find in most states. They do predate on dogs, cats and small animals. So it would be wise to keep a close eye on the animals likely to be eaten. Cougars, to my knowledge, are very skilled hunters. They wouldn’t be taking prey outside of their preferred diet if they were not in need. I am sure that if they had a stable environment, with stable prey base, they’d stay as far away from humans as they could get. They tend to be reclusive. And, people who are attacked by cats rarely see them until they are on top of them.
    They are secrative animals, and even burry their scat to stay hidden.
    My dad once told me that you were lucky to see a cougar, because they were so skilled at the ambush. He cautioned to listen for shuffling brusg or rocks when I fished, because I’d more likely hear but not see a lion.
    So given their reclusive existence, how can numbers truly be attained? How do we become so hysterical? Is it because drought has driven them in to urban areas? Because seeing these cats is the exception, not the rule… I wonder about the logic…
    Kill more cats and control more species.
    I don’t know much about the cougars in Washington, but it seems the South Dakota population is needed in a big way when one person can obtain 6- 8 deer tags.

  4. Cordell Avatar


    I think you are making quite a few assumptions about cougars.
    you said:
    “They have began to be closer to humans, because they are running out of space, and their prey is becoming harder to find in most states.”
    I’m not sure of your definition of “most states” but here in CO there are many cougar sightings and plenty of prey. The problem’s not lack of prey but a hell of a lot more people pushing into cougar habitat.

    you said:
    “They wouldn’t be taking prey outside of their preferred diet if they were not in need”
    They are predators. They take what is available and easy. If it’s someone’s dog or kitty left outside in cougar habitat it is fair game.

    You said:
    “They are secrative animals, and even burry their scat to stay hidden.”
    I’ve never found cougar scat CO, WY, or ID that’s been buried. Found plenty of it right out in the open, most times under a large pine on top of a mound of needles or near a killsite. They mark their territory like most other animals. If they do bury it I don’t think they are burying it to hide their existance from humans, seems a little anthropomorphic.

    you said:
    “How do we become so hysterical? Is it because drought has driven them in to urban areas?”
    The people moving into cougar habitat without an understanding of living with wildlife are, IMO causing the hysteria. More sightings must mean more cats so more hunting is necessary. The state then needs to step in and do something because Spot or Fluffy got et by the big bad old cat.

  5. vicki Avatar

    Assumptions, not really. But I do agree with you on a lot.
    I said a lot of the same things you did, and you even pointed out.

    I stated that the cougar is running out of habitat.
    I also said that that drought drives them into urban areas, well those areas are a lot larger than they once were(by no fault of the cougar’s).

    I too live in Colorado. And I know there are a lot of sightings in residences. But I also know that urban sprawl has caused prey to be dispersed more into areas cats wouldn’t have frequented. Prey is also found in residential areas more frequently than ever.(Because residences are more frequently built in their habitat.) another point you made that we have a common view about.

    I said cats were misunderstood, and you said “people are moving into cougar hanitat without an understanding of wildlife they are living with”. (Seems like the same thing again.) I also have long held and defended my opinion that people who move into an animal’s habitat should be prepared for, and able to live with, whatever happens as a result of that choice. Keep you children and pets close, and expect your lawn and flowers to be eaten by whatever animals live close by.

    I know cougars burry their scat, maybe not every time, but they do burry it. I did not say they did it to stay away from people, I said it was to stay hidden. They also bury prey and take prey to locations not easily seen by most other animals. (Like up trees, and high on ledges.) They mark territory,true, but they are keenly adapted ambush predators. I think burrying scat is part of that trait. I am impressed that you find so much of it, great skills of observation. But if you were to find scat that WAS burried, you would have to be specifically digging to uncover it. I doubt you do that, unless you have been doing research, but hey… I may be wrong. So to say you’ve never found burried scat is not suprising.

    I agree with you about people’s hysteria coming from a lcak of knowledge. I also think the media feeds it. If you understand of even try to understand, an animal’s instinctual behavior, you’d be less likely to see it as an evil puppy eating monster.

    Cats wouldn’t go into any back yard to eat anything, if the back yard weren’t in their territory. They don’t just eat what ever is there. “They are predators. They take whatever is available and easy.” (That sort of statement is often used as an arguement to oppose wolves, and is genralistic and not based in fact.) I disagree. They take what they need to exist. If we didn’t encroach on their habitat, they wouldn’t be close to, or have need for eating Fluffy.

    Cougars eat what is in their space… or what they can eat because they can’t find their regular prey…and those two go hand in hand. They can’t find deer because they have been spread far and wide by the neighborhood that just popped up. They also move into urban areas when their is drought, because deer (their primary prey) move into those areas.

    I also know that a few years back a young boy was taken and eaten by a lion in Coorado (near the Poudre Canyon). The group he was hiking with did not follow some basic rules about hiking in cougar territory. They didn’t walk single file with him in the middle, they let him wander, and they did not remain vigilant in their efforts to keep him between two adults. That fed the hytseria here (Greeley/Loveland) for a while when they finally found his few remains (a shirt). Prior to that the cat had hidden the boy so well that he wasn’t found for over a year, and was assumed to have drowned or been eaten. That is testimony to the lion’s ability to stay hidden, as from what I read, they had DOW trackers looking for any sign of lion when the by first went missing.

    Hey Linda Hunter, or Kt, any stats on drought or other specific links to an increase in cougar attacks on people or pets?

    I am glad to see that you posted, I think we have a similar opinion about the issue. It’s good to hear that from a fellow Coloradoan.

    P.S. I know cougars used to range from what was essentaiily coast to coast. Their numbers and habitat has drastically reduced over the last century. My view of “most states” would be those states effected by over developement… including Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Since over developement has occured rampantly through out our country, I’d say that woud include most states.

    Thanks Cordell, your points have been well taken.
    Take care!

  6. AJ Avatar

    There are such instances such as “predator pits” where these hunts would be beneficial to jump start prey #’s.

  7. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Vicki, almost all predators, once introduced to an easier way of hunting or a more productive way of hunting will gravitate towards that prey source. In urban areas coyotes will pass up traditional prey left and right for the house cat. Why, because the house cat is a high fat/protien source due to the way it is raised (pampered), it has limited survival instincts or defences, and can be found very easily. This description is valid for most “pet” animals. They represent a very high nutritional return for a very low investment in energy and risk of injury.
    The big cats don’t get the same level of exposure to this food source as the coyote does but once they do, their instincts are no different. There will always be exceptions but in the long run, predators pick the best return for their investment: well fed, clueless, easy to take, relatively harmless (to a cougar) house pets. The issue of territory really does not apply because in those areas where these wilderness/urban interfaces occur, the cats have no room to absorb population expansion as new generations get pushed out by their elders into the developed areas. Put pets outdoors in predator country and I don’t care if the forest is full of deer and rabbits, those dogs and cats are going to get eaten.

  8. Cordell Avatar


    We definately agree that people encroach on cat habitat. What I guess I was trying to say is that now their natural prey, mule deer, still inhabit the developed area along with new prey brought in by the people. I guess we are saying the same thing in different ways.

    On the burying of scat. They may, I’ve read that they do, I’ve searched many cat mounds but never found any, urine marking on the mound, but no scat. I’ve been tracking animals as a hobby for about 12 years both here and on the east coast. Out east I found buried bobcat scat but not here in CO. Have you ever found any buried cougar scat in CO? If you have, any details you could share would be great. I’m not trying to be argumentative, just curious. The closest to buried scat I’ve found here is scat in a prepared scrape, uncovered.

    A friend of mine was on a tracking team brought in on the search in Poudre Canyon. If I recall correctly, he said he did find sign of cougar in the area but no apparent sign of the attack.

  9. vicki Avatar

    I think they found signs of cat(s) in the area, and you are correct, no evidence of an attack. (Not suprising I am sure) But they also knew that there were cats in the area. They are actually known to be pretty populous there. I also remember them watching the river for weeks hoping to find the drowned corpse of the small boy. I think their lack of evidence pointing specifically at a cougar left them grasping for answers. Truly tragic.

    I’ve not found any scat burried here, but my dad and uncle had found it burried in Arizona. I also know that some guides who look for cougars to do treeing-dog hunts have been known to have dogs turn it up. I suppose without testing it could have belonged to another animal, but cougar seemed more likely to my dad because they had been seen near by according to other hunters. I do have some friends who I can ask. They may have more info for ya, I’ll let you know.

    I also think, oddly, that animals and their restroom ettiquette is interesting. Have you ever noticed that coyotes poop on roadways a bunch? It’s like they seek them out and poop there. And bears seem to always pooh on a path or trail. (That one may be an intentional marking to ward us off?) A lot of people say wolves roll in it, as well as their prey, though I have no idea if they do or not. It is a lot of info ‘rolled into one source.’

    Mike Post,
    I have no doubt that once they find easy prey, they become more likely to be a repeat offender. That is true of coyotes and bears, with trash etc. But really, who’s fault is it? I say our own.
    Territory is an issue. It is an issue because we have over stepped our bounds and now expect animals to have fore thought, and we accuse them of malice. They haven’t the ability for either in this situation. Territory matters because the cougars’ is shrinking, due to” interfacing”. It matters because we force deer to either live near people, or move… so we force cougars to do the same.
    I disagree that when given a choice a cougar will always pick the pet. I don’t think there is enough evidence to support that. And coyotes are not cougars. Coyotes in urban areas differ from those in expansive wilderness. But they can all hunt, and scavenge. Which ever means of eating they choose is very effected by their habitat and conditioned behavior. (Fed coyotes are dead coyotes, just like bears.)
    If we are to compare cougars to another predator, why not the cheetah? They will eat game other than the Thompson Gazelle, but do so only when no gazelles are around. When given a choice, they have been documented to hunt the fast moving gazelle even when slower and easier prey is available. Given that information, I will wait until more evidence to the contrary is given for cougars too. I may stand corrected though, if you can support your arguement.
    I am always open to info and can actually be persuaded, so please interject anything you may know. I can open to comments, and truly appreciate your opinion.


  10. jerry Avatar

    We seem to have a cougar in our couldassac acording to our nieghbors. I have two 7 year old siblings one brother and sister. I’m worried about them because they play alot in the forests that surround our house. I tell them frequently, to try to arm themselves, but would a weapon( like a peice of wood) be usefull if you were to engage with a fully matured cougar. We live in Washington though me did live in Colorado a few years ago. We saw a cougar when we went hiking in the Rocky Mountains, but it was on a mountain far away. What would be the safest thing to do if you incounter a cougar.

  11. Linda Hunter Avatar

    In my experience with cougars they seem to be afraid of anything that shows a little spunk. . that said, even though cougars do not worry me I have been stalked several times . . once I was doing a watercolor and was sitting quietly for several hours when I heard the leaves rustling behind me. As it got closer I was put out that I had to get up, put my shoes back on and scare it away. I walked into the brush straight at the noise holding a paint brush and stamped a foot. The animal left stage right in a hurry. Later I saw it’s tracks in some left over snow near where I had been. As a tracker it looks to me like the scat burying issue is one of social status of a given animal. Vicki you are both right they bury scat sometimes, but I think that is when a cougar is poaching another’s territory. . a cougar in it’s home range puts scat where everyone will see it. Coyotes are real artists with their scat . . I saw one niffty “cone” right on top of a Coors can. The thing about cougars is that after reading all the books I can find on the animal I have concluded that we just don’t know much about them. I have learned more tracking them than reading about them.

    TO JERRY: Jerry first check the accuracy of the stories from your neighbors. . most times I am called to track an encroaching cougar it turns out to be another animal like a Great Dane. Second, if it is indeed true that a cougar is around, take precautions such as not having kids by themselves but in a group. The safest thing when you encounter a cougar has not been determined for everybody. My personal experience with them is an attitude thing. In face to face encounters I have told cougars I will beat them within an inch of their lives if they take a step nearer. I am not a small seven year old though. If I were you I would take the time to explore the woods where the kids play fully and completely. It might be that there are other dangers there as well.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan