Tag Archives: MOUNTAIN LIONS

WDFW Mulling Cougar Hunting Changes Ahead Of 2020 Season

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has assembled an internal working group of department biologists and enforcement officers to develop recommended changes to the cougar hunting seasons.

WASHINGTON HUNTING MANAGERS ARE DEVELOPING POTENTIAL CHANGES TO COUGAR SEASONS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

After hearing from concerned constituents at the March 2019 commission meeting, the department began reviewing its current cougar hunting rules in order to bring the commission potential amendments for their consideration.

“Our group has met five times over the last six months to discuss changes to the hunt structure,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager. “After completing our internal process, we will begin a public engagement process to receive feedback from our stakeholders.”

In the coming months, WDFW will discuss progress with the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their Wildlife Committee meetings, seek input from key external stakeholders, open a public comment period, host a digital open house with a question and answer session, and provide information through social media.

In addition, the commission will seek public comment as they consider changes during a public hearing on proposed rules in March prior to making a decision in April 2020.

“Public safety remains one of our highest concerns,” said Aoude. “This internal cougar working group continues to work at finding the balance between maintaining sustainable cougar populations while also addressing public safety.”

On March 5, the department filed a CR-101 that advertises the intent of possible rule making. The CR-101, and any future filings related to this process, can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/about/regulations.

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Study On Wolf Pack Size And Elk Survival Spotlights Strong Cougar Impact

A longterm study of wapiti and wolves in Idaho turned up some pretty interesting results.

Mountain lions appear to kill more cows and calves and could also be having a larger impact on the elk herds, but wildlife managers can also increase the ungulates’ survival during snowy winters by downsizing large wolf packs preying on them.

A 197-POUND MALE NORTHEAST WASHINGTON COUGAR SNARLS AFTER BEING TREED DURING A PREDATOR-PREY RESEARCH STUDY. (WDFW)

The study also tied calf survival to predation by either toothsome species by how robust the young elk were going into their first winter, which in turn is linked to the quality of their habitat.

“There’s kind of something for everyone in there, and that’s OK, because it’s reflecting the real complexity of the system” Jon Horne, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game researcher, told David Frey of The Wildlife Society for a story entitled “JWM: Wolves reduce elk survival — but they’re not alone.”

JWM is the organization’s Journal of Wildlife Management, in which Horne and IDFG colleagues Mark Hurley, Jon Rachael and Craig White recently published “Effects of wolf pack size and winter conditions on elk mortality.”

For it, they paid close attention to 1,266 cows and 806 calves (captured at half a year old) in 29 herds from across Idaho between 2004 and 2016 to come up with a model that could predict the risk of death for the elk, according to the paper’s abstract.

(ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

They found that outside of hunting harvest, 9 percent of cows and 40 percent of calves died annually.

Mountain lions accounted for 45 percent of calf deaths, 35 percent of cows. They’re an ambush predator, better in rougher, denser terrain.

Wolves were responsible for 32 percent of cow mortalities, 28 percent of calves. They’re a coarser, more effective in open country.

“Wolves preferentially selected smaller calves and older adult females, whereas mountain lions showed little preference for calf size or age class of adult females,” the researchers state.

They were able to best predict whether a calf would die based on its chest girth — a measure of how healthy it was — the average number of wolves running in nearby packs, and how deep winter snows were, in that order.

For cows, it was age, average number of wolves, and snow depth, again in that order.

SNAKE RIVER PACK WOLVES CAPTURED BY REMOTE CAMERA IN THE HELLS CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA. (ODFW)

It all led to some conclusions for hunters, biologists, managers and policy makers to mull:

“Although our study was prompted by management questions related to wolves, mountain lions killed more elk than wolves and differences in selection of individual elk indicate mountain lions may have comparably more of an effect on elk population dynamics,” the researchers’ abstract states.

And:

“Our study indicates managers can increase elk survival by reducing wolf pack sizes on surrounding winter ranges, especially in areas where, or during years when, snow is deep,” they write.

And:

“Additionally, managers interested in improving over?winter calf survival can implement actions to increase the size of calves entering winter by increasing the nutritional quality of summer and early fall forage resources.”

While the results were not uniform, varying by region, that last point has been repeated a billion times, and here I’ll make it a billion and one — habitat is the key.

Elk country really needs to continue to be improved with the ungulates in mind to make them stronger, more fit and able to evade predators.

As for improving survival, in winter 2013-14 a professional hunter sent by IDFG into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to kill wolves to improve elk survival ended up taking out two entire packs before he was yanked out of the woods.

That’s unlikely to happen in Washington, but the state wolf management plan does say that if “at-risk” big game herds are found to fall 25 percent below population benchmarks for two straight years or see their harvests decline by a quarter compared to the 10-year average for two consecutive seasons, it could trigger consideration of reducing local wolf numbers if the wolf recovery zone that the deer, elk, moose, etc., herd occupies has four or more breeding pairs.

“Under this form of management, wolves would be controlled by moving them to other areas, through lethal control, and/or with other control techniques. While wolves are recovering, non-lethal solutions will be prioritized to be used first,” WDFW’s plan states.

It’s probably not the final word, but the IDFG biologists’ study is sure to kick up more sparks in the blazing fire that is the debate about the impact wolves are having on our region’s elk herds.

But two things are for sure: It appears that a whole ‘nother species — cougars — are playing an even bigger role in things than we’ve suspected, and this latest insight helps flesh out how complicated it all is.

“What we’re realizing now is that to really understand these systems, we have to treat them as multiple-predator, multiple-prey systems,” Horne told The Wildlife Society’s Frey.

In the coming years, details more specific to Washington should begin to come out through WDFW’s big predator-prey study in the Eastside’s northern tier. It’s looking at deer and elk, and wolves, cougars, coyotes and bobcats.

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Op-Ed: More Intensive Cougar Management Tools Needed In Oregon — OHA

THE FOLLOWING IS AN OP ED FROM THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION

By Jim Akenson

The fatal cougar attack on a hiker in the Mount Hood National Forest last year was a tragic thing. Evidence evaluation indicated the cougar was a female in good health. Is this a surprise? Not really.

OREGON WILDLIFE MANAGERS IDENTIFIED THIS COUGAR AS THE ONE THAT KILLED HIKER DIANA BOBER IN LATE SUMMER NEAR MT. HOOD. THE ANIMAL WAS TRACKED DOWN AND LETHALLY REMOVED. (ODFW)

Cougar numbers are at all-time highs for our state, and the distribution of these cats encompasses the entire state. What has accounted for this cougar population expansion from an estimation of less than 3,000 in the mid-1990s to well over 6,000 today? Some of the answer is biological, some is social, and much is connected to management capabilities and practices. We need to find a way to return to this socio-biological balance, and looking to the recent past might just be the best bet – back to a time when hound hunting was a legal and effective management tool in Oregon.

What are the consequences of there being double the number of cougars in Oregon? These effects are best described as alarming and pattern changing. One such pattern is for prey animals, specifically deer, relocating to human development areas to avoid a higher predation risk. This relocation is also drawing in cougars that will go where the next meal can be found. Many hunters and state wildlife managers report that deer are now less abundant in the wilder mountain, high desert, and canyon regions of our state. Meanwhile, Oregon cities are wrestling with the number of deer inhabiting city limits, and cougars are showing up in backyards and schoolyards.

As cougars become more comfortable in human-altered landscapes, the probability of negative encounters with humans, as well as pets and livestock, increases.

JIM AKENSON. (OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION)

So, what is the solution? Biologically, it is plain and simple – more intensive cougar management through various hunting techniques. With an estimated population of 6,400 cougars, and roughly 14,000 people hunting cougars and harvesting from 250 to 300 cats per year, this only equals a harvest rate of 4 percent, which is not enough to even flatten the ever-rising cougar population curve.

Reducing human threat, increasing deer and elk survival, and bringing a cougar population back in balance with other interests in our state will require increased management action and efficiency. According to the 2017 Oregon Cougar Management Plan, the success rate for 2016 cougar hunters was 1.9 percent, with 13,879 people reporting that they did hunt cougars. Contrast that with 1994 data, the last year that dogs were allowed in conservatively controlled, limited-entry cougar hunting, showing 358 people hunted cougars and harvested 144 for a success rate of 40.2 percent. Bottom line: hunting efficiency with dogs is dramatically higher, and provides wildlife managers a reliable tool for maintaining the cougar population within its management objectives.

Oregon’s cougar management and record keeping are divided into six zones, each of which is assigned a desired harvest quota to keep the population in balance with the varied activities of all Oregonians. Employing the current limited management methods, only one of the six zones has met the harvest quota in recent years. A criterion for quota establishment is complaint frequency. By far the most cougar complaints are recorded on the west side of the Cascades, including the coastal region, in Zones A and B. This is also where the bulk of the human population lives. More than 350 cougar complaints per year were received during the last decade in these two zones. Unfortunately, this recording system was not initiated until 2001, so we don’t have data for the time before the dog ban of 1994. We do have records for administrative actions connected to human safety and pet conflicts before and after the dog ban of 1994. For eight years before the ban, they averaged only four per year, and then seven years after the dog ban these complaints increased to 27 per year – nearly a seven-fold increase.

Oregon does have a legislatively authorized agent program wherein highly vetted houndsmen are permitted to lethally remove cats to reduce human conflict and bolster deer and elk survival. These agents work closely with ODFW district biologists. Even with this program in place, cougars are steadily increasing in Oregon, where hunting them is very impractical without the aid of dogs. At present, the law authorizing the use of agents is up for renewal, and hopefully it will receive legislative support and then be applied more broadly for both reaching zone harvest quotas and to help curb the upward statewide population trajectory.

Editor’s note: Jim Akenson is a wildlife biologist, book author and Conservation Director for the Oregon Hunters Association (oregonhunters.org). He invested much of his career in researching the Northwest’s predators.