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WA - Hunter shoots cougar under house

Hunter shoots cougar under house

By Joyce Campbell

A young female cougar lay dead on a tailgate in Twisp on Thursday (Jan. 17), drawing the attention of more than a few passersby.

"It had scary teeth and big ol’ paws," said Marissa Schucker of Twisp, who along with her companions cautiously reached out to touch the motionless cat.

This cat was number 10 of a quota of 11 female cougars allowed in this year’s pilot hound-hunting cougar season in Okanogan County. By Tuesday (Jan. 22) the quota was reached and the pursuit-or-kill season was over, but not the hunt.

Hunters and their dogs may continue to pursue cougars until March 31 in five northeast counties, where the pilot program is intended to reduce the number of cats and their encounters with people and livestock.

This season’s quota of 27 adult cougars in Okanogan County included 11 females, according to WDFW officer Cal Treser.

Two Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers were on hand Thursday to examine the hunter’s permit, the radio-collared cougar, scratches on the hounds and to tag the raw pelt.

The hunter could face a trespassing charge.

"It was under somebody’s house," said the hunter, Michael Terry of Bothell. He told wildlife agents that his four redbone hounds chased it under an unoccupied house, and he shot it when it attacked his dogs. "Nobody was at the house," he said.

"This person had the belief, if the dogs are unleashed in a public area, he could follow them," said Dan Christensen, WDFW officer. Christensen said he informed the hunter that only a search warrant allows someone to trespass on private property.

"You’re required to know where you are at all times," said Christensen.

A mid-morning call to the sheriff’s 911 dispatch reported hound hunters trespassing on her private property on Poorman Creek Road. She called back to say the hunter had left her neighbor’s land and left blood on the road.

The property was posted no hunting/no trespassing, according to Christensen. He said he would search county records to locate and contact the landowner.

"As of now, no charges will be pressed," said Christensen. The original caller who reported the trespass declined to press charges, according to Christensen.

The caller, who spoke to the Methow Valley News on the condition of anonymity, said it was the neighborly thing to do, and now it’s up to the neighbors and the game department.

Misdemeanor trespassing carries a $500 fine and potential jail time, according to Christensen, who said prosecutors are reluctant to press trespass charges when homeowners don’t come to court to witness the case.

It was the end of the trail for the cat, but not the end of her tale. The WDFW had been monitoring the cat’s trail since last August. The then-seven-month old cat had killed a goat at Ed and Vicky Welch’s Sunny Pine Farm on the Twisp River.

"I’m sorry it met its end," said Vicky. "It was a magnificent animal, but if it was headed back here, we’re probably glad." She said the cat got over their orchard fence and killed the most vulnerable animal on the farm, one of two young goats that were quarantined because they were new to the herd of certified organic dairy goats.

After the goat incident, the Welches bought three guard llamas, which are bigger than the goats and help protect the herd. The dairy owners are also considering getting a guard dog.

She said there are lots more cougars since the law was changed to prevent hound hunting. "They’re here, and they get hungry."

The dead goat was used to bait a live trap and capture the young cougar. WDFW cougar and bear expert Rich Beausoleil tranquilized, weighed, measured and radio collared the cat and released her up Benson Creek.

She was tracked by satellite coming back around McClure Mountain, over Poorman Creek and back up the Twisp River Valley, according to Treser. He said there were no recent cougar complaints from that area.

"It looks like after an early offense, the cat probably had some aversion to trapping and collaring," said Christensen. He said tranquilizing is a traumatic experience for a cat. It can’t move, but is aware of what’s going on around it.

The pilot hunting program has been successful, according to Christensen. The three-year program was extended to its fourth year this year. The project seeks to monitor the cougar population and manage hunting quotas to maintain a sustainable population.

Hounds are one of the few effective ways to track cougar he said. The hound hunters have policed themselves very well, turning in unethical houndsmen, and they are a resource to call on when a cougar threatens humans or livestock, he said.

Hunter Michael Terry has bagged his limit of two cougar. He shot a 161-pound tom on Wolf Creek on the third day of the season.

"I ate the last one, " said Terry. He said he plans to eat this one, too. He said the backstrap tastes like tender pork chops and the burger is like turkey.

Terry said he likes hearing the dogs and seeing a pup that he’s put time and effort into catch a bear, cat or raccoon. "That’s really rewarding."

This season’s pilot hunt with pursuit dogs began on Dec. 1 in Okanogan, Chelan, Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties. The state legislature initiated the special hunt after the cougar population and complaints about cougar encounters with people and livestock increased following the 1996 statewide ban on the use of pursuit dogs.

"We’re really looking for the legislature to initiate a regular season, " said Okanogan County Commissioner Bud Hover. "Part of their natural migration is to move down into these areas where the deer winter.

"We’ve got to do the best we can to co-exist and maintain a healthy but limited population," said Hover.

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