The recent killing of a cougar in Kennewick has spurred quite a debate about the actions taken by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A cougar is a dangerous animal, even more so when it's treed in the backyard of a home in a family neighborhood. Throw in a couple of barking dogs trying to protect their home from the wild animal and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Wildlife officials took some time, had some discussions and ultimately decided the only way to provide a safe resolution to the situation was to eliminate the threat, which in this case meant the cougar had to be killed.
This is the kind of situation that makes everyone an armchair expert in wildlife management. Why didn't they just tranquilize the animal?
Well, the people trained to deal with just this type of situation determined it would take too long for the drugs to take effect, and the cougar could make run for it during the interim.
Cougars can make a meal of a horse or a cow, so imagine what they can do to a human when under stress and looking for an escape route.
It's not the first time a cougar has come into a Tri-City residential neighborhood. A cougar found in the basement of a south Richland home under construction last year had to be killed because it wasn't possible to secure the animal inside the partially built structure.
Tranquilizers weren't an option then either. Sometimes the dart doesn't hit the animal in the right spot, resulting in an even angrier cougar. Even under ideal conditions, it can take 15 to 20 minutes for the tranquilizer to do its job.
Cougars are beautiful creatures. And it is sad to see the death of young, healthy animals that are just trying to find territory to call their own. But human life is the priority.
Take a look at the damage a cougar can do if you don't believe they're as dangerous as they are regal. An internet search will provide plenty of examples.
Unfortunately, our respective habitats are not as far apart as they used to be. We continue to build homes and populate what were once wild areas safe for cats. Even here, where it seems we still have lots of wide open spaces, we continue to encroach on the habitat of wild things.
The cougar population has rebounded since being hunted nearly to extinction in the West, back in a time when bounties were paid for dead cougars. Limits on hunting have helped the cougar -- also known as a mountain lion, puma or panther -- flourish.
Since a 1972 ban on hunting cougars in California, the population there has grown to more than 5,000 animals. Two people were killed by cougars there in 1996, but that wasn't enough for that state's residents to decide hunting would be OK.
Our state has a ban on hound hunting for cougars. Hounds are the most effective way to track the cats, and are only allowed during "public safety cougar removals." Today, the state is taking a new approach to cougar hunting, by managing the number of animals harvested with a longer season as a way to obtain a sustainable cougar population. For more information, go to tinyurl.com/Cougar-Rules.
Hunting is a way to control the population of many species in the wild. But in neighborhoods, people and cougars are not a good mix. Neither are cougars and pets or livestock. Young cougars looking for territories are going to make mistakes and wander into places they shouldn't. Sometimes that means a cougar is not going to survive its encounters with humans.