Washington Lawmakers Consider Overturning Cougar Initiative

In 1996,
Washington state voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 655 which banned
the use of hounds to Hunt Cougars in the state. Two years later many people
are having second thoughts about the wisdom of the law, and the state
legislature may override the initiative.

Those who supported
the initiative used the standard arguments – using dogs to hunt cougars
was cruel and unsporting. But, above all, the dogs were extremely effective.
In 1995 hunters in Washington killed 283 cougars using hounds, but by
1997 only 132 cougars were killed, which some people believe is the crux
of the problem.

the passage of the initiative the number of cougars in Washington has
soared, as has the number of reports of human-cougar contact. The cougar
population rose to about 2,500 and the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife reported cougar-human incidents rose from 495 in 1996 to 927
in 1998.

contact has the potential for tragedy. In August 1998, a 5-year-old girl
was ambushed and severely wounded by a cougar near the campsite she was
visiting. In another incident, two cougars became trapped in a school

of Initiative 655 claim the ban on dogs caused the cougar population to
increase dramatically, and they suspect the big cats are drawn to suburban
areas to prey on domestic animals and livestock. Supporters claim the
cougar population had been increasing even before the passage of the initiative
and the increased reports of human-cougar contact are more likely the
result of increased awareness and press coverage of the issue during and
after the vote on the initiative.

cause of the increase in cougar incidents may be up for debate, but the
ban on using dogs highlights an odd aspect of animal rights philosophy
– namely that it simultaneously seeks to place all sentient beings on
the same moral plane but does not apply morality consistently among all
sentient beings.

Consider the animal
rights objection to the use of hunting dogs. I take the claim to be that
(a) cougars are sentient, (b) using carnivorous predators to hunt down sentient
beings is cruel, (c) sentient beings should not be subjected to cruelty,
so (d) predators (dogs) should not be used to hunt down cougars.

To avoid
turning this into an argument against all predation by sentient beings
(leaving Ingrid Newkirk‘s fantasies aside for the moment), animal rights
activists must perform the logical leap of maintaining that of all sentient
beings, only for homo sapiens is predation forbidden on
moral grounds. Furthermore, that moral edict extends to any sort
of interaction which may assist any act of predation.

If a
pack of wolves decide to attack a cougar, this presumably is simply part
of the natural world. If a human being takes a pack of dogs to hunt a
cougar, somehow the act is transformed into an immoral one simply by the
presence of the homo sapiens. To paraphrase George Orwell, all sentient
beings are equal, but some are less equal than others.


Bills would send hounds after cougars. Deidre Silva, The Spokane Spokesman-Review, January 21, 1999.

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