Cougars Decimate Elk Calves in Washington State

Few elk calves in southeastern Washington’s Blue Mountains are surviving their first yr, prompting county commissioners there to ask the Washington Division of Fish and Wildlife to increase the mountain lion season and defend a struggling elk herd.

In line with WDFW Communications Supervisor Staci Lehman, simply 9 of 125 elk calves fitted with radio-tracking collars within the spring stay alive in the present day. Lehman tells F&S that elk calf mortality by predation is predicted and pure, and the extent of mortality can fluctuate because of a number of elements. Not all 114 elk collars recovered by the company got here from animals killed by predators. Some collars failed and a few calves (estimated at 7) misplaced their collars, Lehman says. Nonetheless, predators accounted for a lot of the calf deaths, with cougars significantly environment friendly on the job.

“Throughout our work on the Blue Mountains elk evaluation, we documented 77 carnivore-caused mortalities of collared elk calves; 54 of which have been attributed cougar predation,” Lehman says. “These outcomes elevate issues across the potential of the Blue Mountains elk herd to fulfill the elk herd inhabitants stage administration goal.”

Of their petition to the WDFW, Asotin County Commissioners Chris Seubert, Brian Shinn, and Chuck Whitman wrote: “We share a typical concern with our constituents and have been shocked at the newest elk calf mortality research. Coupled with different information on elk mortality, we have now grave issues in regards to the obvious inadequacy within the safety of the elk and elk calves up to now.” Garfield County commissioners additionally asked for an extension to “enable as many as potential cougars to be faraway from our space.”

The Blue Mountains elk herd is one in every of 10 recognized in Washington State. Its inhabitants seems to have peaked within the late 1970’s and early 1980’s at an estimated 6,500 elk however then started declining within the late Nineteen Eighties. The herd’s administration plan requires sustaining the inhabitants at roughly 5,500 animals, however the Lewiston Tribune reports a present estimated inhabitants of simply 3,600 animals.

The Politics of Washington’s Predator Administration

Cougar administration, and predator administration generally, has been contentious within the state, and is reportedly one of many explanation why a not too long ago appointed member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Fee resigned last month. Fred Koontz, appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to a time period set to run out Dec. 31, 2026, stepped down in December, to the obvious pleasure of hunters who believed his appointment, together with that of Lorna Smith, one other fee member perceived to be usually unsupportive of looking pursuits, was skewing the board away from the North American Mannequin of Wildlife Conservation.

In 2015, Gov. Inslee overturned a WDFW determination to extend the cougar harvest to 17 to 21 p.c of the estimated cougar inhabitants inside parts of japanese Washington the place wolves are current. His emergency order restored cougar harvest charges to 12 to 16 p.c all through the state.

In November, the fee additionally didn’t approve a 2022 spring bear looking season, regardless of state wildlife biologists asking for the hunt to go ahead. Anti-hunting teams pushed strongly for the spring ban. Koontz and Smith voted in opposition to the hunt. Koontz additionally urged that the Blue Mountains elk herd administration goal of 5,500 was too excessive and really useful different administration actions past the short-term elevated focusing on of predators that prey on calves. Nonetheless, already carried out sharp reductions within the availability of cow tags for hunters doesn’t appear to have helped.

WDFW Will Think about Petitions and Monitor the Herd

A Blue Mountains cougar research project that concluded in 2013 discovered densities of three.02 mature cats per 38.6 sq. miles. The remainder of the state averaged 1.5 to 1.7 grownup cougars over the identical expanse of land. Evaluation of the kill websites the place the radio collars have been recovered, as reported in early December, indicated that apart from the 54 calves killed by cougars, 9 the place killed by bears, three by coyotes, two by wolves, and one by a bobcat. 4 calves have been killed by both bears or cougars (however not unequivocally one or the opposite), and one other 4 by an unknown predator.

Whereas bettering habitat is a part of the equation with regards to assembly elk inhabitants targets, the county commissioners weighing in hope elevated strain on mountain lions may give subsequent yr’s calves a greater probability.

Cougar season is open statewide from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, with the late season working from Jan. 1 to Apr. 30. “In the course of the late season, hunt models stay open till their designated harvest guideline is reached,” Lehman says. “The three Blue Mountains cougar hunt models didn’t attain their harvest guideline and are open in the course of the late season. Eight grownup cougars have been taken in these models in the course of the early season. The same cougar harvest pattern within the three cougar hunt models occurred final yr.” A complete of 18 to 24 cats could be killed within the Blues in the course of the early and late seasons. “The division is continuous to watch elk calf survival and is producing an evaluation of findings, which can establish administration methods geared toward rebuilding the Blue Mountains elk inhabitants,” Lehman says.

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