Cougar Outreach and Education in Washington State
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Cougar Outreach and Education in Washington State

Category: Education

Date Published: November 30, 2010

Number of Pages: 110


A comprehensive look at cougar-human interactions, produced for WDFW by Insight Wildlife Management.  This plan is based on state-of-the-art human dimensions research, comparing sentiments about cougars from the various subsets of Washington's human population.

Goals of the plan are: 

  • reduce cougar-human encounters, conflicts and complaints
  • improve public understanding of cougar ecology, behavior and safety tips
  • achieve consistent cougar messages, responses and public policies


Many people in Washington know little about cougar ecology and behavior, or what steps are necessary to avoid encounters. With the increase of human and cougar populations, and the migration of humans into cougar habitats over the last thirty years, a well-coordinated Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) response is needed to raise public awareness and keep both people and cougars safe.

In order to better understand and address the human dimensions of cougar management in Washington State, the WDFW initiated a research phase to identify attitudes toward cougars in Washington. Toward this end, WDFW contracted Insight Wildlife Management (IWM) to complete needs-assessment research and report recommendations in the form of an Outreach and Education Plan. This planning phase, initiated by the WDFW and managed by IWM, consisted of research conducted from January 2008 through June of 2009.

Recommendations in the form of this outreach plan and the following overarching goals were derived from the research conducted:

  • reduce cougar-human encounters, conflicts, and complaints
  • improve public understanding of cougar ecology, behavior, and safety tips
  • achieve consistent cougar messages, responses, and policies within WDFW

Four overarching assessment measures were used to assess existing public attitudes about cougars among Washingtonians: statewide phone survey, key informant interviews, focus groups, and personnel interviews of WDFW personnel, outside agencies, and NGO’s.

This plan provides guidelines for program development and supports the WDFW long-term cougar management by directing efforts toward reducing human-cougar encounters and conflicts. Minimizing human-cougar conflict in Washington State requires that the public know how to prevent human-cougar encounters. It also requires that the public understand the importance of and be motivated to adopt behaviors in the interest of human-cougar coexistence. Therefore, not only must the appropriate information be made widely available to Washington residents, but it must also be consistently delivered with appropriate messages.

Key themes emerge from the research:

  • the importance of dialogue about coexistence with cougars
  • the need for fair, timely, and coordinated response to cougar incidents
  • people value cougars and are often misinformed about their ecology and behavior
  • people want information about cougars and hold themselves responsible for reducing encounters with the animals

The needs assessment thus reveals the importance of making appropriate information widely available, correcting misinformation about cougars, and developing regional approaches. Minimizing human-cougar conflict requires knowing how to prevent encounters. It also requires that people be motivated to adopt certain behaviors in the interests of human-cougar coexistence.

Section 2 and the appendices to this plan provide the research results and interview materials. Implications are analyzed in Section 3. Section 4 presents detailed recommendations for an education campaign integrating a range of outreach strategies. Public engagement is a trademark of the plan. The three broad goals—human safety, better public understanding of cougars, and consistent WDFW response—give rise to nine goals involving specific groups and activities: agency personnel, livestock owners, hunters, rural communities, traditional media, legislators and officials, organizations, the agency’s web presence, and digital social media.

To reach the stated goals, cougar information disseminated to the public must be accurate, compelling, and targeted at key audiences with different levels of knowledge about cougars, different experiences with cougars, and different values and attitudes toward cougars. A long-term approach to improved outreach about cougar ecology and behavior will facilitate wise decisions that keep both cougars and people safe.

Suggested Citation:

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2010. Cougar Outreach and Education in Washington State. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington, USA.