WDFW took the action in response to direction from Gov. Jay Inslee. Last month the governor said the state Fish and Wildlife Commission erred in April when it amended the proposed state hunting rules by increasing the harvest rate to 17-21 percent of the estimated cougar population within portions of eastern Washington where wolves are present.
Responding to a petition from animal rights and environmental groups, Inslee said the commission, which sets policy for WDFW, improperly applied the state Administrative Procedure Act in amending the harvest rate. He directed the commission to restore the lower rate and to conduct a full public rulemaking process to consider changes for future hunting seasons.
Nate Pamplin, head of the WDFW Wildlife Program, said the emergency rule will take effect Jan. 1, 2016, and will remain in place until April 30, which marks the end of the 2015-16 cougar season.
While the emergency rule is in place, Pamplin said WDFW will initiate a full public rulemaking process to set cougar harvest rates for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. That process will include a review of cougar biology and statewide population trends, and analysis of research into cougar populations in areas of eastern and western Washington, he said.
Pamplin said the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule at the commission’s March 2016 meeting in Moses Lake. Adoption of the rule is tentatively scheduled for April, Pamplin said.
In its 2014 Game Management Plan, WDFW estimated the total statewide cougar population at about 3,600.
Cougar hunting is open statewide during an early general season from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. Hunting remains open during a late season from Jan 1 through April 30, although WDFW closes cougar hunting in individual units if the harvest limit is reached before then.
Pamplin said hunters must check the WDFW website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/cougar/) or call the toll-free cougar hotline (866-364-4868) to determine whether specific areas remain open. Licenses for the 2015 season expire March 31, 2016, so hunters will need a valid 2016 cougar license to hunt in April.