Human-Cougar Interactions: A Literature Review Related to Common Management Questions


Published: January 2022

Pages: 78

Author(s): Brian Kertson, Scott McCorquodale, Donny Martorello, Chuck Anderson, Jr., Anis Aoude, Rich Beausoleil, Mick Cope, Mark Hurley, Bruce Johnson, Glen Sargeant, and Stephanie Simek

Executive Summary

Interactions between humans and cougars (Puma concolor) present unique challenges for wildlife managers; reducing occurrences that lead to conflict is a priority for state and provincial wildlife agencies throughout western North America, including Washington. With an increase in management emphasis of human-wildlife conflict resolution, a growing body of scientific literature related to cougar wildland-urban ecology and the factors that contribute to interactions between cougars and people has developed. Based on discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Commission, our 10-member Human-Cougar Interaction Science Review Team assessed both the analytical and ecological merits of current literature, focusing on data and methods, to summarize the current state of knowledge on human-cougar interactions and factors affecting these interactions. We did not use our review findings to provide management recommendations or evaluate/suggest policy alternatives, but we did highlight important information gaps, research needs, and proposed strategies for conducting scientific investigations to benefit managers and policy makers in the future. We used bibliographic lists, keyword searches in research databases, and new literature encountered as citations within papers we reviewed to identify 96 potential studies for review. We evaluated 41 studies that aligned with eight commonly asked questions regarding how various factors contribute to cougar proximity to, and interactions with people. Our review concluded that the roles of cougar removals (Question 1), cougar population size or trajectory (Question 2), the abundance or diversity of prey (Question 3), human population size, distribution, or recreation levels (Question 6), human attitudes (Question 7), and competition with other large carnivores (Question 8) in cougar interactions with people remain uncertain. We found the studies evaluating the efficacy of nonlethal deterrents (Question 4) provided some evidence that these methods reduce conflict, most notably that flashing lights can reduce interactions in specific situations. Our review of papers investigating the role of landscape characteristics (Question 5) revealed spatial ecology to be the most reliably studied and best understood facet of cougar wildland-urban ecology; study designs in these investigations were also the most rigorous. Most cougar use, and subsequent interactions with people, occur at the wildland-urban interface or in exurban and rural residential settings immediately adjacent because these habitats provide both abundant native prey (deer) and stalking cover, or they retain enough native landcover, connectivity, and prey to support cougar use, but with a human presence at a level that does not substantially deter cougars. We identified only a limited number of informative studies in our review, primarily because many studies did not collect data to specifically address relevant management questions after developing testable hypotheses. Much of the literature we reviewed was derived from ad hoc mining of pre-existing data that had been collected for other routine reasons, data were often not assessed for accuracy, and confounding factors were inadequately addressed. Consequently, many factors theorized to contribute to cougar interactions with people require more rigorous investigation. Because wildland-urban systems are complex, and interactions encompass both human and cougar behavior, we recommend the use of long-term studies that incorporate both ecological and anthropogenic factors within a control-treatment design with replicate study sites to address questions with direct management relevance.

Suggested citation

Human-Cougar Interactions Science Review Team. 2022. Human-Cougar Interactions: A Literature Review Related to Common Management Questions. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington, USA. 78 pp.