Cougar protection urged

Say the word “cougar” on the North Island and people pay attention. Say that cougars need our protection, not vice versa, and you are probably in for an argument.

  • Jan. 27, 2011 12:00 p.m.

This cougar was photographed in B.C.’s Interior. Vancouver Island and parts of the mainland are home to the largest remaining populations of cougars in North America.

Say the word “cougar” on the North Island and people pay attention. Say that cougars need our protection, not vice versa, and you are probably in for an argument.

Government and the public need to reconsider the question of killing cougars and regulatory muscle needs to be inserted behind any decisions that are made, argue scientists Corinna J. Wainwright, Chris T. Darimont and Paul C. Paquet. Their report, titled British Columbia’s Neglected Carnivore: A Conservation Assessment and Conservation Planning Guide for Cougars, presents what is, and isn’t, known about the predators so more thoughtful decisions can be made.

“… the government cannot make thoughtful decisions until three critical gaps are closed: the gap in the scientific understanding of cougar ecology, the gap in the B.C. government’s ability to conserve cougars without knowing how many there are, and the lack of an ethical framework to inform decisions,” said Paquet, speaking for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, in a news release. “Only when these gaps are closed can the province begin to determine if cougars can be managed safely and prudently.”

“Although continued survival of large carnivores holds great scientific, cultural, economic and spiritual benefits for people, the cost of conserving these species often falls disproportionately on disadvantaged rural communities,” say the scientists. They acknowledge that sociology more than biology will be a decisive factor in getting the public to hear their arguments.

To that end the researchers recommend policymakers:

• Solicit and draw on traditional knowledge and wisdom of aboriginal people and local people;

• Develop and maintain regular communication within local communities;

• Foster a change in public attitudes regarding the ecological importance of maintaining healthy predator-prey systems;

• Implement non-lethal strategies, including education, to reduce cougar-human conflict and lethal control of cougars;

• Protect the remaining network of undisturbed and connected habitat for cougars and their prey;

• Support applied ecological research; and,

• Eliminate cougar hunting.

Although the researchers do not support hunting cougars, saying that trophy hunting is unjustifiable and is likely to erode support for other acceptable forms of hunting, they say if cougar hunting does continue then they recommend:

• Set low, male-only quotas for management units;

• Establish large, no-hunting sanctuaries; and,

• Eliminate pursuit-only hunting (dogs released to chase down and tree cougars during the months that killing is not allowed).

Although it is statistically more likely that a British Columbian will be killed by a domestic dog, stinging insect, a hoofed animal or another human than by a cougar, many people on the North Island fear being attacked by a cougar.

The RCF researchers say that Vancouver Island does indeed have more cougar attacks than other regions. In Canada and the United States, 20 of 53 such encounters that occurred from 1890 through 1990 were on Vancouver Island. An additional 10 occurred elsewhere in BC. Accordingly, 57% of all North American interactions that resulted in injuries or death happened in the province.”

“Between 1900 and 2009, 8 people were killed by cougars in BC; although many believe otherwise, negative encounters with cougars have not recently increased in the province,” said the researchers.

The 61-page report details what is known about cougars and what remains to be learned.

The report can be viewed at www.raincoast.org

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