Cougar controls demanded - Critics tell state lawmakers current
system doesn't work
Spokesman-Review Staff writer
OLYMPIA, WA-- Citing cougar attacks on horses, dogs and children,
some county officials say they can't wait for state Fish and Wildlife
officers to investigate the complaints.
They want to launch their own cougar-control programs.
"We have people calling, saying they have a cougar in their
back yard," said Okanogan County Commissioner Mary Lou Peterson.
"We need to start actively pushing those cats back out of residential
The best way to do that, proponents of the plan say, is to issue
local permits to hunters with hounds trained to pursue and tree cougars.
But a 1996 citizens' initiative sharply limited hound-hunting. Under
the initiative, state Fish and Wildlife officials can issue special
permits to hound-hunt animals for public safety.
That system isn't working, Peterson told state lawmakers Tuesday.
Residents who call Fish and Wildlife agents about a problem cougar
sometimes don't get an answer for three days, she said. By then, the
trail is cold.
Senate Bill 6118, sponsored by local Sen. Bob Morton, is an attempt
to speed up the process by letting Okanogan, Ferry and Stevens counties
issue their own cougar-control permits under a three-year pilot program.
Okanogan environmentalist Mark Skatrud told legislators that county
officials such as Peterson are overreacting.
Despite the limits on hound hunting, more cougars were killed in Okanogan
County in the four years after the initiative than in the four years
preceding it, Skatrud said. Cougar attacks and complaints are down,
In fact, he said, local statistics show that loose, aggressive dogs
pose a much greater threat in Okanogan County than cougars do.
"The county isn't interested in the facts," he said. "They're
more interested in the rhetoric and politics."
Peterson, illustrating her speech with photographs of bloodied horses
and a boy badly injured in a 2001 cougar attack, described cases of
cougars stalking local residents. Two girls driving a farm pickup
to their bus stop were horrified when a cat landed on the truck and
tried to reach the girls inside, she said. One of the girls backed
over the animal, which ran off and was never caught, she said.
Rancher and hound hunter Joel Kretz testified that since 1999, seven
of his horses have been injured or killed by cougars. His son's pet
terrier was killed in the back yard, Kretz said. He said he's afraid
to graze his horses on 1,300 acres of his own land, for fear they'll
"The system is not working in Okanogan County," he said.
"I'm outraged, and I don't think Fish and Wildlife is taking
it as seriously as they ought to."
And it's not a matter of newcomers encroaching on cougar habitat,
Kretz said. The canyon where he lives once held more than 10 homesteads,
he said. Now his is the only one.
The bill would allow county officials to allow hound pursuit -- but
not killing -- of cougars during the fall, and pursuit and hunting
during the winter.
Hound pursuit would serve three purposes, proponents say: keep cougars
at bay, train hounds, and make it easier for local hunters to use
darts to retrieve a DNA sample to help researchers document the cats'
numbers and territory.
How about using guard dogs, asked Sen. Larry Sheahan, R-Spokane.
"There ain't a dog big enough to not be a cougar dinner,"
But Skatrud said the number of cougars, and the threat, seems to be
shrinking. He contends the current system is working.
Skatrud said that in Okanogan County in 2001, for example, there were
140 complaints about cougars. In 2002, the number was down to 100.
Last year, there were 100, he said, but 30 were redundant complaints
from different family members or neighbors, or couldn't be substantiated.
"The facts don't support their arguments," he said. "But
I don't think they'll ever be satisfied until every cougar is killed
in Okanogan County."
Fish and Wildlife officials said Tuesday that the agency has become
much more aggressive about cougars in the past couple of years. They
said they've tried to work with Okanogan County, but worry that the
bill, if passed, would set a precedent for all counties.
As for response times, Fish and Wildlife's enforcement program chief
Bruce Bjork agreed with Peterson that it's sometimes slow.
"Are there communications difficulties? The commissioner is absolutely
right," he said. "We only have four officers in that particular
area, so we don't have somebody on duty 24 hours a day, seven days
Fish and Wildlife deputy assistant director Steve Pozzanghera said
Kretz's land is in a "topographical funnel" that feeds wandering
wildlife -- including cougars -- into the canyon.
"We are extremely sympathetic and we do take the issue seriously,"
Pozzanghera said. "We don't believe it's acceptable either that
an individual should have 1,300 acres that's not usable."
Half a dozen cougars have recently been killed on Kretz's land, Bjork
"I'm just wondering if there would be any difference in the department's
response if there was a cougar in (Seattle's) Discovery Park,"
said Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle.
Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, said that unless an effective control
for problem cougars is found, the likely solution will be the old
ranch standby for problem stray dogs: "Shoot, shovel and shut
"I believe that's already occurring (with cougars)," responded
Richard Roesler can be reached at
360-664-2598 or by email at richr at spokanenews.net.