Washington ranchers ain't nothin' but a bunch of hound dogs, crying all the time about how hungry cougars are killing their livestock. Unfortunately for them, Elvis has left the Capitol and the state legislature adjourned their special session without approving a bill that would have allowed the continued use of dogs to hunt the large predatory cats in five rural Eastern Washington counties.
The bill's critics included Robert Wielgus, the director of Washington State University's Large Carnivore Conservation Lab. He told the Spokesman-Review in March that livestock losses actually increase when mature cougars are killed because the inexperienced felines that take their place typically go on the prowl for easy prey.
"They're younger and they don't know what they're doing. They haven't established their territory, they're wandering all over the place," Wielgus said. That can cause them to wander into farm and ranch lands or suburbs that older males have learned to avoid."
Of course, conservative lawmakers representing the state's agricultural regions weren't buying that argument. Led by Sen. Bob Morton, who represents the northeast corner of the state, they hoped to continue circumventing a 1996 initiative that bans hunting big cats with hounds. Regular cougar-hunting (i.e. no dogs allowed) is still completely legal in Washington with a permit, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife sells approximately 66,000 such "cougar tags" each year.
Sine 2004, when the hound-hunting pilot program was introduced, cougar complaints declined 48 percent in the five participating counties, according to the AP. However, in the rest of the state, cougar complaints were down an almost equal 46 percent. State wildlife officials registered more than 900 cougar sightings in 2000 but less than 300 in 2009, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife report.
A few other fun cougar facts:
-The state's cougar population is about 1,900 to 2,100 resident animals, and it's estimated that one adult cougar roams about 20 square miles of habitat
- The last cougar-related human fatality in Washington was in 1924.
-Less than 1 person per year is injured by a cougar in the lower 48 states. In all of North America, there were 117 documented attacks on humans from 1890 to 2005.
-Being attacked by a cougar in Washington state is extremely rare. Since 1900 there have been 18 documented human-cougar incidents in Washington state involving 12 addeath of 1 person in 1924.
-66 percent of Washington residents do not know what to do if attacked by a cougar. Says the Department of Fish and Wildlife: "People should fight back if attacked."
And so despite a promising outlook early this year, the hound-hunting proposal fizzled after it was introduced at the start of the special legislative session in late April. Now rural farmers will just have to pursue cougars like the rest of the state, using patience, guile, and ample amounts of red
wine meat as bait.