Washington's Hoh Mountains
State of Washington: Closeup of Cougar


Hound hunters continue to pressure government officials to allow the use of dogs to hunt lions.

Despite the passage of Initiative-655 in 1996, Washington's cougars are threatened now more than ever before. The law designed by citizens to protect large predators was broken to benefit a small interest group eager to kill more lions.

For two decades, politicians have designed policies and practices to negate the law's limited protections. Their actions have created what many experts are now calling a dysfunctional cougar population: disproportionately composed of young, inexperienced cougars which are most likely to get into conflicts with people, pets, and livestock.

  • Return to the portal page for Washington State.

  • The status of puma concolor in Washington.

  • State law and regulations affecting cougars.

  • The history of cougars in Washington.

  • Ecosystems and habitat in Washington.

  • Cougar science and research in Washington.

  • Our library of media, research and reports.

  • How you can take action to help!

SUMMARY: Cougars in the State of Washington

For more detail you can explore using the links below.

The status of puma concolor.

According to Washington's own best estimates, the State's cougar population has been cut in half since 2003. And in the past 25 years, people have killed more than 4,500 cougars, despite shrinking habitat and other human-caused threats limiting their survival.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife cougar managers have begun working more closely with cougar research experts at Washington State University. While data indicates cougar hunting should immediately be reduced, politics continue to slow progress and push for even more killing of struggling cougar populations.

Click here to learn more about status

Cougar law in Washington State.

In 1996, Washington voters passed an initiative, 655, to prohibit the use of hounds in hunting cougars. Though marked as the most successful community and legislative action for cougars, I-655 could not command the respect of Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

They've used the very provisions of compromise and tolerance which citizens built into the law to undermine its intent and to destroy the same wildlife the law was meant to protect. Hound hunting proposals continue to be introduced each year to overturn the limited cougar protection.

Click here to learn more about law

The history of cougars in the state.

Like most western states, cougars in Washington were first managed through a bounty process, then left for a few years to the good graces of whoever wanted to take the time to kill them, followed by the species classification by WDFW as a "game animal," and management as such.

In 1996, Washington voters passed Initiative 655, which banned the use of hounds while hunting cougars. Unfortunately, this expression of public sentiment toward lions was quickly undermined by hunting policies that resulted in even more cougars killed during the following years.

Click here to learn more about history

Cougar habitat in Washington.

Approximately half of Washington state is considered cougar habitat. The adaptable felines are able to survive in much of the state's forested regions outside the Columbia River basin.

Keep in mind that although cougars are physically capable of living in these places (based on geographical, vegetative and prey species characteristics), it does not mean they necessarily do. Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out cougars from any area. For more information about where cougar populations actually live, check out our Science tab.

Click here to learn more about habitat

The science of cougars in the state.

Currently, most cougar research in the state is being conducted by Washington State University's Large Carnivore Conservation Lab, head by Dr. Rob Wielgus, in conjunction with WDFW. Their groundbreaking studies are changing long held assumptions about the social nature of this mysterious feline and the damaging effects of sport hunting.

Research papers under strict copyright protection may only list their abstracts on our website. But if you would like a personal copy of the full paper to read, please contact MLF.

Click here to learn more about science

Take action for cougars.

According to Washington's own best estimates, the State's cougar population has been cut in half since 2003 and little is being done to reverse the damage. Sport hunting combined with losses from habitat fragmentation, roadkill, community intolerance and orphaning are putting the future of Washington's cougar in jeopardy.

But it's not too late! With your help, we can stop the hunt and put in place protections to ensure a sustainable, ecologically-effective cougar population for generations to come.

Click here to learn more about action

Managing the Big Cats

08/27/13 Guest Commentary from Ann McCreary, Methow Valley News

In this reposting of a Methow Valley News article, journalist Ann McCreary discusses the latest cougar research in Washington and how it's reshaping management of this often misunderstood cat. Biologists are learning that killing more mountain lions can increase conflicts with people. The long-ignored social structure and territorial habits of lions are key factors. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are striving for a more science-based approached to creating lion policies in the state.

Effects of Sport Hunting on Cougar Population, Community, and Landscape Ecology

12/20/12 A 22-minute video by Dr. Wielgus, WSUCAHNRS

Presented by Washington State University professor of wildlife ecology and Large Carnivore Lab director Dr. Rob Wielgus at the 2012 International Conference of the Wildlife Society. This presentation offers 15 years of research in 15 minutes.