After a considerable negative public comment, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (WDFW) today made the unsound decision to pass the Hound Hunting Training Rule as presented by WDFW staff. This rule will allow houndsmen to train their dogs by chasing cougars and is considered a non-lethal chase. The proposal was finally passed by a vote of 4-3, as it was presented by the WDFW staff.
The proposed training program would select 50 licensed hunters to train their own dogs by allowing them to pursue cougars until the cats are treed or cornered. Because this is a nonlethal program, participants would be expected to call off their dogs and leave the area without killing any wildlife. Opponents say this is unrealistic, and note that firearms are not prohibited on these chases.
“The legislature asked for a public safety program,” said Chase, “instead, the WDFW approved an over-reaching proposal that even allows training participants to bring along untrained and un-screened family members while they chase cougars. This makes a mockery of the legislature’s intent under the guise of public safety by allowing cougars to be chased by dogs as a recreational activity, one that Washington voters outlawed long ago.”
The heated debate over this proposal has shone a spotlight on WDFW’s internal politics. In documents obtained through public disclosure requests, WDFW’s staff scientists questioned the safety and necessity of a cougar chase season. These expert opinions were not brought forward in public commission meetings. “We fear that the commission is not hearing these voices, as they are filtered through the presentations of managers influenced by other voices,” says Debra Chase, CEO of the Mountain Lion Foundation.
Chasing cougars with dogs will inevitably separate lactating mothers from their kittens. Even a temporary separation could prevent kittens from drinking and eating for a full day while the female is treed or hiding. This method can also cause injuries that prohibit the cougar from hunting, which leads to a slow and excruciating death for any wild carnivore.
“This is not non-lethal hounding of cougars,” says Chase. “In our opinion, there is no such thing. This is especially concerning since the commission increased the total number of cougars hunters can kill by almost 50% in April of 2020, adding more threats to the already vulnerable cougar population.”
“WAC 220-412-130 WDFW Managed Nonlethal Pursuit Training Program” came out of House Bill 1516, which directed WDFW to establish a nonlethal program for training dogs. For over an hour Commissioners debated on the rule and at one point after a motion was seconded to pass the proposal the Chair didn’t know how to proceed when that same motion was asked to be amended and tabled for two months by Commissioner Baker. Chair Carpenter had to confer with their counsel present who was not fully equipped to act as parliamentarian of the proceedings.
For several months The Mountain Lion Foundation and other conservation groups submitted much public commentary about this new rule. There are not any provisions in the rules for controlling hounds or reporting requirements that would keep the public informed.