In Oregon and Washington, hunters with hounds are going to get another shot at cougars.
Officials in both states say there are areas where cougar numbers need to be reduced for the safety of people and livestock. But animal rights activists maintain people should be more tolerant of the big cats.
Correspondent Anna King reports.
Voters in Oregon banned sport hunting with hounds in 1994, and Washington voters did the same two years later.
Sponsors of the ballot measures claimed that hound hunting is cruel and unsporting. But now both states’ Fish and Wildlife agencies say they need the help of hound hunters to control cougars in some areas.
Jennifer Hillman of the Humane Society in Seattle is resigned. She argues what Washington State should be doing instead is educating people on how to live in harmony with big cats.
Jennifer Hillman: "We have to acknowledge the fact that as humans we are encroaching on their territory. And there are ways to live humanely and in peace with wild animals. The reason we love the Northwest so much is because of the wildlife that lives there."
Washington’s hound hunt will begin on Dec. 1st and covers the northeast corner of the state. In Oregon, Fish and Wildlife hasn’t decided yet if private citizens or wildlife officials will conduct the hound-assisted hunts. Oregon’s hunts will be set in 2008.
Michelle Dennehy of Oregon Fish and Wildlife in Salem says it’s understandable why people are so passionate about protecting cougars. But she says Oregon’s management of the large cats is a success story.
Michelle Dennehy: "When ODFW took over the management of cougars they were in very bad shape. That was in the 1960s, there were about 200 animals left in Oregon. The population, we estimate, has gone from that level to 5600 animals today."
Dennehy said the state wants to bring back hounds to hunt cougars, because they are the most effective way to track and kill the elusive cats.