Cougar (Puma concolor)
Cougars (also known as Puma or Mountain Lion) are Washington State’s largest cat and an essential part of the environment. They are considered a top predator and Deer and Elk are a main food source. It is estimated that a male Cougar in the Cascade Mountains kills a Deer or Elk about every 9 to 12 days. They are solitary and secretive, and we rarely get to see them, nevertheless as humans encroach on their habitat, Cougar conflicts are becoming more frequent.
Cougars live all over Washington State except the Columbia Basin and, of course, urban cities. Humans consider Cougars to be “game animals,” and therefore with the appropriate permits Cougars may be hunted and killed. “Game animal” classification is authorized by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Cougar populations are stable here but may be declining. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) classifies Puma concolor as Least Concern for conservation in its current North American range, however, with a population trend of Decreasing.
This range overlaps with other predators’ and with “livestock” grazing land. WDFW is currently conducting the Washington Predator-Prey Project that reviews the consequences of Wolves living in WA and their impacts on the rest of the ecosystem, including Cougars, as well as on the practice of ranching.
MANAGEMENT IN WASHINGTON STATE
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) manages wildlife on a population level, whereas NARN is oriented more towards an individual nonhuman animal’s right to chose their own life and right to their own bodily autonomy. Population level management strives to maintain healthy, reproducing populations, but is not necessarily used as a tool to save individuals.
Because wildlife “belongs” to all citizens of Washington State and WDFW has many stakeholders to satisfy, the department must consider all interests, including hunting, economic, education, scientific study, photography, safety, and cultural uses by Indigenous communities. At this time, Cougars are largely managed through the consideration of only three of these interests; hunting, economic, and safety.
Furthermore, we humans have created another situation that endangers the life and livelihood of Cougars. We are encroaching on their homes making it more likely there will be safety conflicts and conflicts with producers of animal-flesh-based agriculture (ranching). Many Cougars have been killed because they are taking people’s companion animals and “livestock,” or have touched, or come close to, a human. In reality, much of wildlife management is management of humans.
For example, Klickitat County, WA, has killed numerous Cougars under the guise of “safety,” but other counties experiencing similar levels of Cougar encounters have refrained from the mass slaughter of Cougars because of a difference in human opinion on a Cougar’s “place” among us.
NARN would like to see management principles that prioritize consideration of the individual animal in conservation management decisions.
These are the Cougar Management Goals in the WDFW Game Management Plan:
- Preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage Cougar and their habitats to ensure healthy, productive populations.
- Minimize human/Cougar conflict.
- Manage Cougar for a variety of recreational, educational, and aesthetic purposes including hunting, scientific study, cultural and ceremonial uses by Native Americans, wildlife viewing, and photography.
- Manage statewide Cougar populations for a sustained yield.
- Improve our understanding of predator-prey relationships.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Make your voice heard!
Tell WDFW what you would like to see changed or strengthened regarding its Cougar
management policies. Major commenting happens at WDFW Commission meetings, instructions found here.
Remember, don’t forget why you care about Cougars! You may express your feelings and opinions, however, opinions must be based on facts and spoken respectfully. Facts are, for example, scientifically based population trend data, or numbers of verified human/Cougar conflict encounters per year in Washington State. Your feelings on Cougar hunting may also be expressed. Feelings are not fact-based but are still valid!
The Fish and Wildlife Commission is the body that classifies which nonhuman animal species will be considered by humans as “game animals.” “Game animals” are nonhuman wild animals that may be hunted and killed by humans. Some other actions you may take to engage with the Commission in-between public commenting periods are:
- Contact the Commission directly. Before submitting your writings, be aware that some activist websites (both ones for and against hunting) exaggerate claims and opinions disguised as facts. Go to the source of research and make sure you can adequately point to your source information while conversing with WDFW or with its Commission.
- Become educated on WDFW Cougar management and education.
- Let NARN help you with your research. What do you want to find out?
- Attempt to formulate and write down what changes you would like to see implemented for Cougar management at WDFW. When presenting to the Commission, try to suggest alternatives to the actions you do not like.
- You may also comment directly to WDFW on their public media Stay Connected sites.
As always, be kind, be factual, know your sources, and express your values in a productive and respectful way.
Coming to the table realizing the common goal is the most effective way to affect change. The common goal in this case is healthy Cougars and their populations, even if it is for different reasons.
Did you know that there is an organization dedicated to protecting Cougars in the PNW? Visit our awesome friends at The Mountain Lion Foundation for even more info and resources on Cougars!