Biologists race to clear a path to survival for Northwestern cougars

Feb 12, 2008

Cougars have been under siege in the United States since the arrival of European settlers, victims of extirpation campaigns and habitat destruction as inhabitants converted wilderness to farmland and pasture. These campaigns eliminated Puma concolor in the East (save for a remnant population in Florida) during the 1880s, and now the same forces—abetted by good intentions—are threatening existing populations in Washington State. A new story in this week’s issue of the open-access journal PLoS Biology shows that good intentions are no substitute for sound science.

Over the past decade, Washington State’s cougar population—already under attack by developers, hunters and hostile ranchers—has come under “friendly fire” from well-meaning voters as well. Ironically, a ballot initiative to ban the traditional practice of hound hunting—and, it was assumed, to protect the state’s cougars—has served only to further endanger its few thousand remaining animals.

In “No Place for Predators?,” PLoS Biology senior science writer/editor Liza Gross shows how good intentions have paved the way to increased dangers for the Pacific Northwest’s embattled cougar population, and how wildlife biologists are scrambling to find a science-based path to coexistence between people and predators—before it’s too late.

“Contrary to popular belief,” she reports, “and the rationale behind legislation authorizing emergency and public safety hunts,” the hound-hunting ban did not yield a population spike. The hopes of Washington’s voters, it turned out, were as unfounded as the fears of its ranchers, many of whom, relying on hearsay and anecdotal evidence, insisted the big cats’ numbers were growing. “As complaints were going up, the population was tanking,” explains Rob Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory.

Like other researchers investigating the reality of predator management in the Pacific Northwest, Wielgus has found that perception is often at odds with the science—and that false assumptions benefit neither the state’s people nor its predators. “We’re learning all kinds of things that are counterintuitive,” he says.

As he and his scientific colleagues make clear, that new knowledge—and biologists’ ability to communicate it to the public and elected officials—may hold the key to cougars’ survival.

Citation: Gross L (2008) No place for predators? PLoS Biol 6(2): e40. doi:10.1371/ journal.pbio.0060040

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Danish museum discovers unique gift from Charles Darwin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

ACEs are high with space station colloidal research

41 minutes ago

One global marketer took to space to find a way to be leaner and greener back on Earth. For Procter & Gamble (P&G), product innovation and improvement relied on use of the International Space Station (ISS) ...

NASA image: Fires above the Great Slave Lake in Canada

41 minutes ago

Updates from NWTfire.com report that there are 133 active fires in the North Slave Region of the Northwest Territories. No new fires reported in the past 24 hours. Fire danger is moderate to high. Smoke may ...

Recommended for you

Danish museum discovers unique gift from Charles Darwin

2 hours ago

The Natural History Museum of Denmark recently discovered a unique gift from one of the greatest-ever scientists. In 1854, Charles Darwin – father of the theory of evolution – sent a gift to his Danish ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

THEY
not rated yet Feb 12, 2008
It isn't just the cougar that are affected, it is also the bear. While I am not a biologist to know if the number of bear is actually decreasing like they say the cougar numbers are, I suspect the bear population is dwindling also. I can't tell you how many friends, family members, and even ME, have been affected by the increase in bear and cougar infringing on residential property. About 10 years ago a friend of mine had moved to a rural area, and I warned him not to let the kids play by the creek at the back of his property because there was cougar in the area. He laughed his head off and told me I was out of my mind. Well a couple months later he appologized and told me this story about finding the neighbors cat in an upstairs room 3 times in about a 5 or 10 minute period. Well, the third time as he tossed the cat out the back door, he turned on the porch light to figure out how the cat was getting into the 2nd story window. In midd toss (of throwing the cat out) he saw the cougar in his back yard, and proceeded to watch this poor cat crawl up the siding to get away from the cougar.

This has been a problem for so many years now it is ridiculous. Legislatures need to wake up and listen to the people. Washington state citizens have been complaining ever since legislation changed the hunting laws. If you are having to go on cougar and bear hunts because peoples lives are at stake, of course the population is going to diminish. Bear and cougar MUST fear man, or man will have to kill them when they lose their fear and start living in residential areas.

Nice to read that something may finally be done about this problem. It has gone on far too long.
bigwheel
1 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2008
Cat the other white meat. We have plenty of them in Mt. come
take all you want. Just like Canada never had a shortage on wolves
they were selling us. You Idiots.