Jan 10, 2024
A Victory for Washington’s Cougars
Cougar on a mossy log
By Sebastian Kennerknecht

Times are changing in Washington. Our Fish and Wildlife Commission protected cougars.

Late on December 15, 2023, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted overwhelmingly to support new rules that will protect Washington’s cougars and bears from overhunting.

The commission voted 7-2 in support of a petition filed by the Mountain Lion Foundation and our partners. The vote directs wildlife agency staff to revise rules in ways that should prevent overhunting and bring science and common sense back to cougar hunting laws. You can watch the debate and the vote through TVW.

This vote is a historic step in support of cougars, and commissioners deserve our support and thanks for a difficult and brave action on behalf of carnivores.

Commissioners asked hard questions about the petition and the science behind it, and in months to come, we expect them to push the department to develop strong new rules that protect cougars based on the concerns raised in our petition, and the department’s own science that we cited in the petition (science which a remarkable letter by 50 independent scientists endorsed).

Our petition asks for commonsense, science-based hunting rules that:

  • root hunting limits in the extensive field work conducted by Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists
  • cap all human-caused mortality (to avoid excessive killing by sheriffs undoing the science-based limits, for instance)
  • limit hunting to 12-16% of an area’s population (a limit based on careful scientific study, set to match natural mortality rates)
  • close loopholes that allow unlimited hunting of 18-24 month-old cougars

Commissioners and the Department will work together to develop rules based on the petition, and the Mountain Lion Foundation and our members will remain vigilant to ensure that the final rules embrace the petition’s original aims. We will not let this historic opportunity for reform be watered down by institutional inertia and pressure from anti-science special interests.

This victory happened because mountain lion supporters turned out in large numbers, sending emails and testifying in the hearing to make sure commissioners understood the need for new rules to protect cougars. The victory also came because Mountain Lion Foundation supporters have lobbied the Washington governor many times in recent years to appoint conservation-minded commissioners who will turn to the best science to guide policy. Those new commissioners voted to approve this petition. This represents a dramatic swing in the commission’s approach, away from the “shoot first” ideology that long dominated Western approaches to carnivore management.

This victory is not the end of our work in Washington. First, new rules be drafted and voted on by commissioners in the next few months, to ensure the rules take effect before hunting seasons begin again. After that, the department must enforce the new policy, and continue conducting world-class science to assess the hunting rates that will do the least harm possible to cougar populations. And the Mountain Lion Foundation’s ongoing work to advocate coexistence with cougars will continue in partnership with the Department and communities statewide.

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