SINGLED OUT

Klickitat County is the specific target of a new proposed bill in the Washington Legislature. It wants to restrict hunting of cougars by dogs. Sheriff Bob Songer issued a statement opposing the proposed bill.

A bill proposed for the new Washington legislative session that began Monday takes aim at Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer, and Songer has responded to it with a statement.

Washington Senate Bill 5613 aims to restrict the use of dogs to hunt black bears, cougars, or bobcats. The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), expressed concern over the use of dogs by Songer’s department and posse members for use in the hunting of cougars. Introducing the bill, Van De Wege said, “The motivation comes from the Klickitat County sheriff. I’m interested in, and Christine Rolfes is interested in, doing something that addresses Klickitat County. In my opinion, he is hunting down cougars that are not a problem.”

Monday Songer responded to the proposed bill, saying, “Senate Bill 5613 is a misinformed attempt to limit the ability of county sheriffs to protect lives and property... The bill is specifically targeting the Klickitat County Sheriff.

“Apparently, the senators did not bother with any research to form their opinion,” Songer continued. “Since starting the program, the sheriff’s office has removed 26 cougars. Before then, [Washington Department of] Fish and Wildlife was killing cougars at about the same rate, Department Game Division Manager Anis Aoude said. ‘It’s not that much higher than removals we have done in the past,’ he said.

“Fish and Wildlife Captain Jeff Wickersham said the sheriff has removed some cougars that the department would not have removed. On the other hand, Fish and Wildlife might have removed cougars the sheriff’s office did not, he said. ‘Prior to the sheriff engaging in this work in 2019, my staff in the area was quite active in these type of removals,’ he said. ‘I don’t think [26 cougars] is too far off from where we might have been given the same circumstances.’”

Van De Wege has said that while he was reluctant to take authority away from sheriffs, he thought the change in the state law would have little effect outside Klickitat County, further emphasizing his focus on this single county.

In his statement, Songer continued: “Wildlife depredation is a state-wide problem. Fact checking with the Washington Cattlemen’s Association would have helped the senator have a reality-based opinion.”

Songer cited the following incidents since the county implemented hunting with dogs:

  • Attack on a human.
  • Five incidents of cougars under or in homes. (A cougar took a small dog through an open house door.)
  • A cougar in a City of Goldendale residential area.
  • Goats killed by cougars at a Columbia High School FFA project area, on the high school campus.
  • Numerous attacks on horses, sheep, cattle, poultry, llamas, and pets resulting in death or severe injury.

Songer said the county’s policy is to invite the WDFW to accompany sheriff’s office personnel when tracking of cougars, time permitting. About 80% of the time, WDFW declined to participate due to lack of availability of staff.

“The functional procedure has been to notify WDFW,” Songer said. “Then after a taking of a cougar or bear, WDFW is provided full report and the GPS location of the cougar or bear, which allows WDFW to collect biological information.” He added this is in contrast to a statement by WDFW Southwest Regional Director Kessina Lee, who stated that WDFW wants to be the primary responder to cougar calls to counsel people on living with cougars. “While we see the number of removals has decreased for the time being, we also have to recognize that the lack of communication is hindering our ability to provide landowners, citizens, with the resources and services we have to offer,” she said. “If we do a removal, we come with a lot of education,” she said. “That’s really a crucial difference.”

But Songer points out WDFW is already fully informed by virtue of its invitation to participate. “Any failure to follow through with education rests with WDFW.”

Songer also refutes Lee saying the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office’s “fundamental premise” is that any cougar sighted on the landscape is a potential public safety threat. Songer states all taking of cougars has occurred only when there were incidents already resulting in damage or imminent threat due to proximity. “The mere presence on the landscape has not resulted in the pursuit or taking of any cougars,” Songer said. He added, “The Sheriff’s Office has volunteer dog handlers on call. Only after investigation by a sheriff’s deputy are any tracking dogs requested. There is no unfounded random pursuit of cougars.”

Songer maintains his stand is further exonerated by a lawsuit brought against Klickitat County by the Mountain Lion Foundation, which the foundation lost. “The Klickitat County prosecutor stated well the basis of the defense,” Songer said, quoting County Prosecutor David Quesnel: “The idea that during the enactment of the constitution that there would be any question whatsoever that the sheriff or any local constable would not have the ability to protect the citizens from predatory animals, such as black bears, cougars and bobcats, would have simply been laughable.”

“Cougar incidents are very time sensitive,” Songer said, “and county response is quicker than WDFW staffing allows. Counties should not be forced to take a back seat to state or federal authorities in protecting lives and property. The citizens of Klickitat County, or any other county, will not be safer by another limitation being placed on local law enforcement. The senators would do well to represent their far west-side districts and not meddle in east-side situations. Their motivation seems to be serving as proxy for the Mountain Lion Foundation and power-grabbing WDFW directors.”