Washington state Senators Brian Dansel and Don Benton have coauthored a bill as part of the latest attempt to force the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to allow trophy hunters to use hounds to kill cougars for fun. The bill states special "dangerous wildlife task teams must be developed in each county [...] and a kill season with the aid of dogs must be established," ultimately claiming they will hunt lions to protect the public and increase research on the species. WDFW and the findings of numerous research projects have shown these hunting programs don't work, and they can actually increase cougar-human conflicts.
The program is merely a feel-good title for a group of hunters who will use a pack of hounds to track and chase a cougar until it climbs a tree out of exhaustion, so the cat can be shot at close range off a tree branch.
Moreover, WDFW already has the authority to initiate special public safety hunts with the use of hounds, if needed (WAC 232-12-243). But the agency has found instead, by utilizing the latest peer-reviewed science into management decisions, "Cougar conflicts have declined substantially in recent years as the Department continues to emphasize cougar awareness coupled with our agency kill authority of problem cougars at the time of an incident." Teaching the public about coexistence and only killing the individual cats causing problems has proven to be a more successful policy.
Allowing groups of hound hunters to kill random cougars in rural areas has not yielded any positive results.
Washington sport hunters (without dogs) currently shoot more than 100 lions each year, and WDFW has found this mortality level may already be too high. The cougar population is declining and the excessive killing of adult lions has caused an age shift to younger cats which are more likely to come into conflict with people, pets, and livestock.
The agency has been using published research from Washington State University to revise and lower the state's annual sport hunting quotas so that the cougar population may grow and mature. The last thing we need is a new program to track and kill more cougars, especially cats that have never come into conflict with people.
Senate Bill 6287 is a redundant authorization of public safety hound hunts — WDFW already has this tool at its discretion anytime they determine it appropriate and necessary to use hounds to help kill cougars.
Senate Bill 6287 would also force WDFW to implement a wildlife killing program they know is unsuccessful and potentially dangerous. The legislation is not backed by the Department, scientific research, or the majority of citizens in Washington.
In short: this is a BAD BILL.
If you live in Washington, please contact your legislators and urge them to oppose SB 6287. You can look up their contact information here.
Washington sport hunters annually shoot around 100 to 150 lions, but the use of hounds was banned in 1996 by a citizen-sponsored initiative (Initiative-655). The public overwhelmingly supported the legislation which made it illegal for hunters to use bait to attract black bears, or to hunt a black bear, cougar, bobcat or lynx with the use of hounds. Exceptions were only granted for emergency cases when a specific threatening animal needed to be tracked and killed.
Unfortunately, legislation since that time has expanded the loophole and now allows for the use of hounds in special public safety hunts which are designed to indiscriminately kill cats to reduce the overall size of the population in the hopes this will reduce the odds of a conflict. From the year 2000 to 2011, more than 460 cougars were killed under these misguided safety hound hunts.
WDFW found this program was not achieving the desired goal of increasing public safety — it was actually making things worse — and the Department stopped issuing the special permits in 2011.