Washington Fish And Wildlife Commission To Talk Cougar Science, Rulemaking Today

Petitions, public comment, the director’s report, and cougar science and hunting rules. That’s the meat of today’s Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission agenda.

Members of the citizen panel that oversees WDFW policies are meeting in Olympia and via Zoom starting at 8 a.m. today (watch on TVW) and while three petitions – including initiating Eastside-Westside deer tags and banning bait for Puget Sound steelhead and delaying the summer opener – will catch the eye of state sportsmen, it is the cougar discussion later in the day that bears the closest watching.

Prompted by a petition from predator advocates that they voted 7-2 to accept late last year, commissioners are slated to “discuss policy considerations of rulemaking” around more than dialing back mountain lion seasons to where they were in 2019.

The discussion – which will likely begin earlier in the afternoon than scheduled on the agenda after a fourth petition was pulled – will include where WDFW is at in its ongoing and unfinished review of cougar science and policy implications of changing the hunting regs.

The potential for fireworks was presaged yesterday afternoon by a hard push in the Wildlife Committee to recommend a slate of changes to the full commission for more talk today.

Backed by Commissioner Melanie Smith, committee Chair Lorna Smith recommended including cougar conflict removals towards the hunting guideline for management units and shutting hunting down when the total mortality hit benchmarks; lowering the bottom of the allowable mortality guideline from 12 percent to 10 and consider using it to close seasons “as conditions warrant”; include all cougars except kittens in the mortality guideline, the top end of which is 16 percent; run a single, September 1-March 31 season instead of a general fall and guideline-pegged winter season; and review cougar hunting rules every three years as done with other big game species.

With WDFW still crunching the science as part of an ongoing review to inform updating the Game Management Plan, fellow committee member and former wildlife biologist Commissioner Woody Myers hemmed and hawed about recommending the slate essentially from the petition to the commission, but he was open to at least holding a discussion on them.

The fourth of the four committee members, Commissioner Jim Anderson, however, was a strong no and felt that was like putting the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse.

“We need to make sure we have a process that is clear and defensible,” Anderson stated.

Both sides will take from WDFW’s robust body of cougar science and data that there is and is not a need to act.

But Eric Gardner, Wildlife Program director, laid out the bottom line:

“Our cougar harvest has not changed dramatically as a result of those changes that were made in 2019,” Gardner said, adding, “It actually decreased with those changes.”


At stake today is how far the commission pushes in beginning cougar rulemaking.

There’s a chance a wing of the commission will try to get the recommendation into place for the 2024 season, which essentially would require a vote today or soon after, WDFW filing what’s known as a CR102 in May for public comment and a decision in June.

That will depend on whether they have the votes to do so today. That will likely become more clear during discussion this afternoon.

There’s also a chance that they’ll wait for the rest of WDFW’s science to gel and settle on aiming for the 2025 season.

Stay tuned.