[The program] … is not a recreational hunt
— Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore section manager

By Ann McCreary

In response to an above-average number of cougar-related complaints, three hunters have been issued special permits to hunt cougars with hounds in a designated area of the Methow Valley.

Photo by Cal Treser

This 125-pound male cougar was shot by wildlife officer Cal Treser after it killed a calf near Twisp on Sunday (Feb. 9, 2014). Photo by Cal Treser

The hunters are part of a “cougar management removal permit program” through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The cougar removal is used in response to confirmed incidents involving human safety or pet and livestock depredation.

The cougar removal hunt opened Saturday (Feb. 15) and will continue through March 31, or until it is closed by state wildlife officials, said Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore section manager.

The designated area involved in the cougar removal is a portion of Game Management Unit 231, known as the Gardner Unit, which includes large tracts of land in the Methow Valley. The special hunt area includes portions of Twisp River Road, Elbow Coulee Road and Wolf Creek Road.

Cal Treser, WDFW enforcement officer, said Tuesday (Feb. 18) that he had not received any reports of cougars taken by hunters in the Methow Valley since the cougar removal hunt began.

To determine whether a cougar removal hunt is warranted, WDFW keeps track of the number of confirmed cougar depredations or public safety incidents received each year in each game management unit in the state. If the number of confirmed incidents exceeds the average number of complaints received in the period from 2005 to 2010, WDFW can authorize the removal program.

The average number of complaints for the 2005 – 2010 period in GMU 231 is three, ranging from a low of zero to a high of seven complaints during those years, Martorello said. In 2013, WDFW verified 11 complaints in GMU 231, significantly higher than the average for the five-year baseline period.

“Last year we didn’t have any areas [in Washington] that hit the mark. This year we have a handful of problem areas,” Martorello said.

A total of 17 permits have been issued by WDFW to hunt cougars with hounds in seven game management units this year, according to the WDFW website.

The removal program “is not a recreational hunt, it’s more similar to a depredation removal,” Martorello said. “The statute that allows removal of cats with the aid of dogs [applies to] chronic areas that are portions of the GMU.”

Using dogs to hunt cougars has been banned in Washington since 1996 when state voters approved Initiative 655.

The cougar removal program was established more than a decade ago to manage cougars that present a chronic threat, Martorello said.

Hunters participating in the cougar removal will be allowed to take up to three cougars in the area designated for the removal program.

Like other cougar hunters, they will be required to regularly check the WDFW website to determine if harvest guidelines for cougars have been reached in that area, Martorello said.

The specific area in the Methow Valley designated for the hound hunting is described by WDFW as: Beginning in the Town of Twisp at the junction of Highway 20 and the Twisp River Road, west on the Twisp River Road to Elbow Coulee Road, north on the Elbow Coulee to Patterson Lake Road.

The area continues east and north on Patterson Lake Road to Twin Lakes Road, north to Wolf Creek Road, then west to where the road crosses Wolf Creek, southeast down Wolf Creek to where the creek joins the Methow River, straight across the Methow River and continuing southeast on Hwy 20 to the junction with the Twisp River Road.

During the past two months, five cougars have been tracked and shot by WDFW officials in the Methow Valley following depredations on livestock and pets. An additional two cougars have been killed by hunters.

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