Killing too many cougars actually worsens cougar-human conflicts says 13-year Washington State study

Big old cougar toms keep “law and order” in the woods-

The finding of this study might surprise many people, but it only confirms what a number of small studies have shown.

Young sexually active cougar toms strike fear in cougar moms.  Adolescent male cougars kill the kittens, and they are more likely to attack livestock, maim their wildlife prey (failing to kill it) and pose a threat to humans.  The mature, shall we say “wise” toms . . . , well, they keep the young guys in check. The rule is avoid the big guys and don’t harass the females to which they claim mating access; lay low, learn, grow, and you will be a big tom someday too.

Cougar hunting seasons that hit the deep backcountry population hard reduce the number of the big toms, and create a chaotic struggle for sex and prime habitat between the “teenaged” cats. As a result of this study (and other similar ones), Washington Fish and Wildlife Department s implementing a new cougar management plan.

Starting in January, Washington will use “equilibrium management.”  This means quotas will be set that only remove the annual surplus of cougars. This will be in fact sustained-yield hunting, something moderate wolf conservationists have suggested for wolves, only to be met with a flat rejection from the wildlife departments in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. In fact, their cougar management is somewhat the same as their wolf management.

Washington State learned the hard way when in the past when cougar problems had a bit of an upswing, they decided a large cougar reduction was needed. They did in fact cut the population of the great cat substantially, but problems with young toms and barren females soon emerged.

Story on this  Cougar study finds old toms more stable for wildlife. Billings Gazette.






  1. Mark L Avatar
    Mark L

    Works in coyotes wolves and elephants…why not cougars? Heck, works in humans too.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Yes. 🙂

    Really enjoyed this post.

  3. HAL 9000 Avatar
    HAL 9000

    Seems like a no-brainer.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Hal 9000.

      It might seem like a no-brainer to you, but you are assuming the decision-makers have brains. 😉

      Sarcasm aside, just think about the typical response to any increase in animal-human conflict somewhere. Isn’t the typical response that there are suddenly too many and we’d better kills some, or maybe a lot of them? The idea that generalized killing might “malform” the population and make things no better or worse, rarely occurs to whoever makes the decision.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        They’ve been killing coyotes since forever, and there seems to be more of them. With coyotes though, is the phenomena per this article, their amazing ability to adapt, or perhaps a bit of both?

        1. Mark L Avatar
          Mark L

          Good question. Yes, I’d like to see studies on the coyotes also, if they are available. There’s a difference in coyotes ‘out west’ and the ones ‘back east’ also, as the ones in the east may be the closest thing to an apex predator that an ecosystem has available (urban/suburban). In this case, the males could make a much larger influence on younger ones (JMHO…the only threat to the older males is a gun and cars, really).

          1. Ken Fischman., Ph.D. Avatar

            Dr.Robert Crabtree(2012,ourforemost authority on coyotes agrees with you. Killing coyotes both increases their reproductive capacities and spreads coyotes into new territory. This insures that Wildlife Services will never run out out of coyotes to kill.

      2. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Isn’t the typical response that there are suddenly too many and we’d better kills some.

        Yes. Where I am, when the Great Whites return for the summer (a grand total of 11 this year, I think) following their prey of seals, what do you think was proposed to do about the seal population? You guessed it. On the idea that “too many” seals equals too many sharks, so if they kill some it will keep the Great Whites away and keep swimmers safe. I remember reading of studies where when elephant herds were “culled” of their adult males, the juvenile or adolescent males never learned how to behave.

        1. Immer Treue Avatar
          Immer Treue

          Anthropocentrism (from Greek: άνθρωπος, anthropos, “human being”; and κέντρον, kentron, “center”) is the idea that humans are the central concern and that humans must judge all things according to this central concern for humans: Anthropos (the term, like “human”, refers to both men and women) must be considered, looked after and cared for, above all other real, symbolic or imaginary beings.

          While not saying we should not take care of our own, the stubborn desire to exploit and destroy things we do not understand, either prior to understanding them, or once that understanding is published and looked upon as lies or an inconvienience by others,is nothing more than the arrogant belief in “dominion over rather than fellowship with” the million+ other species that inhabit the earth.

      3. HAL 9000 Avatar
        HAL 9000

        A reactionary view toward predators is still deeply entrenched. However, things are changing. The fact that we are even having this conversation is testimony to that.

  4. mikepost Avatar

    Any dominant cat/bear/wolf will kill the offspring of other competing males if possible. Given that the whole “trophy lion” thing is much harder to define in the field than an elk with a giant 350+ rack it is hard to see how nuanced this management can be. With wolves I am not sure anyone in the hunting areas is passing up “non-trophy” wolves, whatever that means. That said, it is worth trying, just keep the expectations low.

  5. Ken Fischman., Ph.D. Avatar

    A number of years ago, wildlife officials in Quebec changed Caribou hunt rules so that older males with large racks became the primary targets. Elders of the Cree tribe, which had coexisted with these ungulates for thousands of years, told the officials that this was a bad idea, but were ignored.

    The following year the caribou population crashed. Many thousands perished either of starvation or in attempting to cross rivers in dangerous places. It seems that the older bull elks knew where the grazing areas and safe river crossings for these migrating ungulates were located.

    Moral of both these stories: Do not kill the elders. Listen to their advice instead

  6. Ken Fischman., Ph.D. Avatar

    Dr Crabtree sent a letter to the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, detailing his concerns about the way coyotes are treated. It is well worth reading

    1. Louise Kane Avatar

      do you have a link to the letter and thank you

      1. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
        Rita K. Sharpe

        Yes,I would be interested in reading it,too.

  7. jon Avatar

    Does this also apply to wolves? I have read articles from experts saying that if you kill the adult wolves in a pack, the young less experienced wolves that can’t hunt their regular prey will go after easier prey like cattle and livestock.

  8. Ken Fischman, Ph.D. Avatar

    Louise; I am unable to put a link in this reply (I tried), but if you are willing to share your email with me, I can put the link in that

  9. Ken Fischman, Ph.D. Avatar

    Louise: I tried to send the link but could not. Please send me your email & I will send the link

  10. Louise Kane Avatar

    Ken absolutely,
    please ask Ralph for it and thank you very much



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