Did Washington State Fish and Wildlife internal directive lead to killing of Snoqualmie Valley cougar?

[Article by contributing writer, North Bend resident and wildlife enthusiast, Melissa Grant]

On April 5th 2019, a Capital Press headline read, “WDFW Director: When in doubt, remove the cougar.” This memo came shortly after a March Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Commission meeting in Spokane. New director Kelly Susewind – WSU grad with a degree in geological engineering and longtime Department of Ecology employee – took over in January 2018 after the former director resigned. To many, the new director’s ‘remove the cougar’ stance sounded like a change that could result in the killing of more animals.

Less than a month later – in our own backyard – that directive claimed one of its first victims. 

The audio transcript of that March Commission meeting made it clear that many were concerned about cougar populations. Most notably, one group claimed that cougars and wolves were responsible for the deaths of 25,000 deer annually in NE Washington. They also went on to claim these predators were responsible for DFW funding shortfalls. If you believe their numbers and follow their extrapolations, you can see how the cougars are costing the state a fair bit of money in lost hunting permits. Apparently, they and the other meeting attendees convinced Susewind the problem was statewide and the memo was distributed to wildlife & enforcement programs on April 24th

The very next day, on social media, a story started unfolding. In the comments of a wildlife story, a local man was telling a tale of losing his goat to a cougar. “I had my 130lb goat plucked off by a cat 30yards from my back door.”  Some tried to help by sharing links and tips for protecting livestock. Others offered contact info for the local DFW bear and cougar specialist. It was clear from his response he didn’t think much of the Department or want their advice. “lol. WDFW has been here tracking this mother and 3 cubs for 8 years. Who is this ‘specialist’? Do they have experience hunting and hunting predators?” He said he also had a second goat taken in early February. Like the three men at the commission meeting, he seemed convinced the reason for the attacks was simple: loss of deer. Furthermore, the WDFW had been at his house that very day looking and he was disgusted by the “spiel” he had heard about responsibility. 

It was clear this man wasn’t inclined to change his mind and a quick look at his Facebook page showed he had very poor husbandry, leaving his goats susceptible to attack. But what effect did the memo have on his two previous encounters with DFW officers? There were enough details to submit a public records request for both goat depredation incidents. 

Soon after there was a Digital Open House with the WDFW director and other staff on May 13th. Armed with a copy of the memo and having studied department reports on cougars, four questions were put into the queue for consideration:

  • A recent incident in the Snoqualmie Valley involved a resident with poor husbandry losing two of his livestock in three months. One call involved multiple officers, according to some accounts. What is the cost per call? How much taxpayer money is spent on repeat offenders?
  • How are you solving repeat problem situations with large predators outside of killing animals? What if people don’t follow recommendations given by officers? Will you be following up with citations, fines and long-term solutions?
  • There are recommendations in WDFW 2018 Game Status and Trend Report to avoid/minimize conflict and interactions with large carnivores through outreach, education, better husbandry and an emphasis on personal responsibility.  However, the director’s memo regarding dangerous wildlife of April 24th excludes all references to these things. Is there a general trend towards de-emphasizing personal responsibility?
  • WDFW manages fish and wildlife. Why does it suddenly sound like it is just helping remove or eliminate wildlife and carnivores? Where does responsible management play a role?

Two and a half hours later, these questions were either not asked; asked but significantly changed; or answered with what can only be described as blather.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, the questions were resubmitted to the director. Game Division Manager Anis Aoude replied on May 17th. The answer to the third question stood out as somewhat reassuring: “The Director’s memo that you mention was not intended to de-emphasize personal responsibility.  It was intended to stress that human safety should be paramount when making decisions related to large carnivores.  Our employees will still be emphasizing that good animal husbandry is the best way to avoid livestock depredation.  They will also continue to provide technical assistance and suggestions along those lines.”

That answer coupled with point two on the memo – “When public safety is threatened or when livestock have been killed despite an owner’s efforts to protect the stock, staff will make every reasonable effort to removing the offending animal(s)” – seemed to suggest that the memo didn’t mark a statewide change in policy after all.

However, getting the reports from the local goat incident a few days later would again call into question what that memo actually meant for our state’s animal residents.

The first report was dated February 3rd and told a tale of a goat killed by a small or juvenile cat. The DFW officer searched the property, found the kill site and questioned the owner as to the whereabouts of the goats that previous night. He was told that the goats “roam free during the day and loiter around the barn at night”. They added they were not secured in the barn and had not done so for a “long time”. The officer continued his search, found a gap under the fence a cat could climb under and noted that the fence could have easily been jumped over as well. He informed the owner of his findings, gave advice to secure the goats at night and suggested adjustments be made to the fence. 

The second report was dated April 26th – two days after the memo was issued. On the 25th, the owner contacted the DFW again to say his remaining goat had been killed by a cougar. The officer then contacted his supervisor who told him to give the owner permission to tie the carcass to a tree and shoot the cougar if it came back. Late that night the owner called, saying he’d shot at two cougars – killing one. In the morning after speaking with the officer from the prior incident who had noted the property’s inadequate fencing, several officers headed to the residence. 

Once at the residence, the officers walked the property, took photos and found the deceased cougar and goat. Karelian Bear dogs arrived to look for a wounded cougar, but none was found.  The dead cougar was a 50-60lb sub-adult female. The officer’s supervisor recommended not issuing a written warning for negligent feeding, poor fencing and husbandry practices “due to the Directors memo” even though the report noted, “no effort was made to better his fences.” The reporting officer also noted he “would have told him not to kill cougar and put up an electric fence if not for the director’s memo”.

So, does Washington State have a cougar problem? In some areas perhaps, but experts say that hunting practices may partially be to blame for this problem. Many incidents involve juvenile cats that were either alone or with another similarly aged animal. Orphaned cubs – left alone without a mother – often resort to preying on humans and livestock out of desperation. Thus, hunters who kill a mother cougar may be inadvertently causing this issue.

Calling for increased hunting pressure on cougars is unwarranted. There is no evidence that decreasing a cougar population will decrease interactions, as research has shown in multiple states. There is no evidence that an increased cougar population leads to more problems. 

According to the WDFW’s 2018 Longterm Funding Plan, department funding comes from six main sources: federal, user fees, state and local contracts, state bonds and license plates. User fees alone are approximately 23% of the DFW’s spending, with a major portion of that coming from hunting and fishing licenses.

WDFW’s mission statement is: “To preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities”. Sounds a bit like they must try and serve two masters simultaneously. Perhaps that meeting back in March tipped the scales towards the consumptive users’ needs – aka hunters and fishers. How else do you explain how an issue in the northeast corner of Washington affected policy in the Snoqualmie Valley? 

Residents in Eastern Washington have been making themselves heard on the subject of cougars. If you want your opinion to be considered, you must also make your point of view known. You can contact the Director at:

Kelly Susewind: Director’s Office PO Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200 | 360-902-2200 | director@dfw.wa.gov

[Thanks to WDFW, Bob McCoy of the Mountain Lion Foundation and my anonymous wildlife enthusiast for providing requested research materials.]

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great article! We have had several problems with predators. It is good to know that we have the option of shooting them. Watched a cat leap over our 7 foot fence as if it was not even there. Not sure I could build a fence high enough to keep them out. Lived here my whole life, and as you pointed out, the cougar problems have gotten way worse since they outlawed hound hunting for them. I’ll be contacting WDFW and asking for a cougar tag so we can do the same as the other farmer. It is only a matter of time before we have another attack like that poor biker last year who was killed.

    • RCW 77.36.030 allows for the killing of wildlife without a license due to threat to human safety or property damage subject to limitations determined by a commission. I have yet to find a clear and authoritative list of these limitations.

      Though my personal interactions with Snoqualmie PD have been positive, there are a host of potential violations for which someone could be arrested if any responding officer didn’t personally agree with how the animal was taken; discharge within city limits, discharge within 500 feet of a dwelling, reckless endangerment, disturbing the peace, etc. The sky’s the limit depending on how far left the prosecutor’s office leans.

  2. H. Duceman says

    Will, I wanted to challenge your idea that a cougar (AKA mountain lion, or puma or panther ) could jump a 7 foot fence. So I went to the absolute source of all truth…GOOGLE. There I found that “experts” said that they could leap 12′ to 14′ high. Hats off to you, Will. There was this video showing it ….. https://www.facebook.com/WindCaveNPS/videos/665198963525892/

  3. If you take steps to protect your livestock and have repeated problems you will likely be given permission to take care of your predators (although I’ll let them tell you that for sure) This isn’t about denying responsible farmers the ability to properly protect their animals. Its about a directive that seemingly ignores the important component of personal responsibility that we all need to have when living near wildlife. (I know you were being facetious with me but I decided to answer as though you weren’t )

  4. Jo Ann Flashman says

    I’ll tell you a story about cougars. Back in the late ‘90’s when they banned hunting cougars with hound dogs it was a big controversy and still to this day. We had a herd of Llamas, 1996 that year our neighbors had goats, cats and dogs killed all around us. Then we were struck the night of Dec. 23, 1998 and two of our llamas were killed. At that time if a cougar was killed on your property you could shoot that animal, my Husband did. In calling a Game Dept. person who came out to help him. A cougar has a 100 mile radius, a cougar can jump from a standing position 15 feet high, so do not talk about poor husbandry of a Farmer. If the cougar is hungry enough it will kill. So the Game Department should re-evaluate and un-do the ban for hunting cougars with hound dogs. It was and is a nightmare when your animals are killed.

    • Paul Gilmore says

      Hi Joanne… Paul Gilmore. The writer is talking about me. The officer wrote a false report. My animals are in a barn at night and the goat was killed in the pasture about lunch time. I have invited the reporter to my house to view my very nice facilities for animals however, she declined because it would not fit into slanted article. Also, 9 goats just killed one night by cats in Duvall a few weeks ago. Love ya!

      • Paul-Since June you have been accusing me of slanted reporting and 3 separate DFW officers, on two different occasions, of filing two false reports regarding your husbandry. Since my story is based on their report and you say they are lying I should investigate, correct? They do say in the first report your wife admits they weren’t in a barn at night. As for inviting me to your property I never saw such a message come through. Let me know if you’d like me to proceed. I am happy to attempt to get a spokesperson from the WDFW to comment on your accusations.

  5. John L. Wallace says

    Your ignorance of predator management in WA, and of cougars specifically, is staggering. The elimination of hounds for hunting in 1996 is causal to a steady and overwhelming increase in the cougar population statewide. Hounds are the primary method of hunting in states where cougar populations are maintained at a healthy level. In WA, cougar/human conflict has increased drastically and the affect of our predator spiral on ungulate herds is marked. It’s quite clear that the models the state has used to estimate cougar numbers is flawed and the DFW has admitted as much by thankfully increasing quotas on both cougars and black bears. We need more effective means of hunting these predators to bring the populations down to manageable levels and that means a return to hound hunting. Until that happens, we will absolutely experience increased incidences of predator/human conflict as dominant males push more adolescent males out of wild spaces and closer to population areas. You can wait until the kids start dying or you can take preemptive action. But decrying the killing of one cougar and the tragedy of that death (sarc), only spreads your ignorance of wildlife management to the general and misinformed public.

  6. They study’s you are quoting are flawed and written with a bias towards the large carnivores, Rob Weilgus has be discredited by his own employer WSU in a letter apologizing to the public for Weligus’s lies you can read it here: https://news.wsu.edu/2016/08/31/wsu-issues-statement-clarifying-comments-profanity-peak-wolf-pack/
    Weilgus and his acolytes are directly responsible for our current and deeply flawed ‘Cougar plan’ that sets our hunting regulations and quota limits. There is some merit to Weilgus study in states with hound hunting as they do tend to target trophy males, but here in Washington there is no trophy hunting, the large males are very seldom taken by hunters who tend to shoot most cats as opportunistic while hunting other species. Large males make themselves scarce and occupy the best ranges, and are seldom seen by hunters. The whole study is false because even though in states with hound hunting that target large Toms other cats get educated that humans are bad news thus more likely to avoid people, here in Washington however they through generational learning have recognized they have little to fear, especially near urban areas.

  7. Very swayed and one sided. To blame hunters for the problem is ridiculous. Why is it when the WDFW asked for an increase in the cougar quota that Inslee rejected it then wrote a letter to the Sierra Club telling them he did so? Does he not trust his State Biologists? That’s their job. Have you ever seen or had a cougar charge you? Well I have seen many and had them charge me. This article writer needs get out in the real world and out from behind the desk.

    • Max Payne says

      Keith P
      You sir are still alive after seeing a cougar and being charged by a cougar?? Mountain Lion’s were here long before you were. You are more than likely a mountain lion killer as well.
      You are a big brave man to kill with a gun.
      A 5 year old could kill anything with a gun

      • Have never killed a cougar Max, and at what point in my comment did I say i even own a rifle? I happened to have been back packing and made myself look larger convincing the cat to take off. So you should probably keep your assumptions to yourself!!

      • John Wallace says

        Max Payne, they were here before you, too. Since you have a house there, they can no longer roam free at your address. Why don’t you be the example for all of us to follow and bulldoze your hose and then, live suspended off the ground so the cougars can again roam free. It’s plain to see you’re no stranger to hypocrisy and that you’re ignorant of wildlife conservation. Read a book.

    • Uh, could it be because a commissioner moments before the vote to approve quotas, and after public comments were closed, increased quotas well above what the WDFW biologists–those guys you think should set quotas–recommended. Could it be Inslee got involved because the Commission violated the Administrative Act, and it was his job to enforce the proper procedures? It’s wrong to blame hunters, because it’s the Commission and to WDFW managers that ignore the recommendations of biologists. And then there’s the people who are unaware of the facts that post them in comments and further spread misinformation regarding cougars and WDFW management of predators.

      • Could the attacks, more sights than ever, decimation of deer population in Chelan an okanogan counties be part of the cougar population explosion. Could the most sightings ever to the WDFW be an anomality, NO.

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