OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved a plan to issue a limited number of permits for cougar removal with the use of dogs to address public safety needs.
By a vote of five to four, commissioners approved rules that will allow removal of up to 74 cougars in the 17 Game Management Units (GMUs) that had the highest public safety complaint levels in 1999 -- primarily urban areas around Puget Sound and Spokane. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will announce the procedure for applying for a permit in late October and begin accepting applications from licensed hunters in early November. The deadline for applications is Nov. 15. The cougar removal will begin Dec. 16.
Commissioners approving the rules were Chairman Kelly White of Kettle Falls; Russ Cahill, Olympia; Don Heinicke, Wenatchee; Will Roehl, Bellingham; and Fred Shiosaki, Spokane.
Commissioners Lisa Pelly, Bainbridge Island; Dawn Reynolds, Pullman; Bob Tuck, Selah; and R.P. "Van" Van Gytenbeek, Seattle, voted against the rules, citing among their reasons the voter initiative passed in 1996 banning the use of dogs for recreational cougar hunting.
Currently there is an Aug. 1 to March 15 season for hunting cougars without dogs in Washington. However, complaints about cougar problems with people, pets and livestock have continued to proliferate. In response to public safety cougar complaints, the Commission, a nine-member citizen's panel which sets policy for the WDFW, was directed by the state legislature earlier this year (through ESSB5001) to adopt rules for when and where dogs may be used to remove cougars that pose public safety problems.
In drafting the rules, WDFW staff examined the frequency and distribution of recent cougar complaints, including human safety incidents and pet and livestock kills or injuries. Staff recommended that cougar removal permits be issued in game management units (GMUs) which had at least four such incidents and at least seven cougar sightings and nuisance encounters in a year.
The Commission heard three hours of testimony at a September meeting in Wenatchee, from people on both sides of the issue but deferred a decision until today because of the lack of time to discuss the issue further.
Cougar removal permit numbers for portions of selected GMUs are as follows: