The suburbs of Seattle have historically been home to voters who support wild animals, but as development encroaches on what once was wilderness, new homeowners, such as Tami Cron, feel torn. Last summer Cron opened her front door and came face-to-face with an adult female lion.
"It is pretty nerve-racking to think cougars were in my garden," says Cron, whose neighbors have lost pets to the big cats. Now, Cron can rest easier. In response to pressure from suburban and rural districts and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state legislature passed a law allowing the public to track and kill cougars with dogs.
Agency officials say the new law gives them flexibility in dealing with a growing number of human-cougar encounters. In 1999, there were 694 reports of livestock predation, personal attacks or cougar sightings.
"We just don't have the number of enforcement agents and the ability to get out to these areas," says Donny Martorello of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "This (law) gives us another arrow in our quiver."
Critics say hunting cougars with packs of dogs is inhumane and unsporting. They cite instances in which dogs have ripped cougars apart.
"The bottom line is, first and foremost, this is unnecessary," says Lisa Wathne of the Humane Society. She says voters have already said they were against hunting lions with dogs, passing a voter initiative in 1996, that banned hound-hunting; it gained more than 60 percent of the vote (HCN, 10/28/96: Should city slickers dictate to trappers?). According to Wathne, another voter initiative may get under way to overturn the latest law.