In your recent cougar article, the WDFW carnivore researcher asserted that “exponential population growth” in our county was a reason for increased sightings and why there seems to be more cougars. His statistics regarding human population growth in Stevens County were grossly miscalculated and exaggerated. 27,327(population change in 50 years)/17,403(starting population in 1970) = 156% or a 1 ½ growth factor, not the 2 ½ he claimed. If you subtract the population changes over the last 50 years for only three largest communities of Colville, Chewelah and Suncrest, the rural area of the county had less than a 115% growth factor.
The growth rates for predators over the last 50 years, however, truly are exponential. Up until 1960, people were actually paid a bounty by the state to hunt cougars. Before the law changes in 1966 making cougars a game animal, cougars were still considered a nuisance predator and could be shot at any time. This allowed Steven County residents to manage the local cougar populations making human/predator interactions and animal depredations nearly non-existent and keeping the cougar population low. Between 1966 and 1996 the cougar population grew somewhat. However, interactions and depredations were kept lower as hound hunters helped to keep the problem cougars away from people and livestock. Since 1996 when I-1655 was passed banning sport hunting with dogs, the cougar population (and incidents) has been allowed to grow virtually unchecked until now. There is no current accurate census for the cougar population in our county. Some current estimates are that the cougar population growth over the last 50 years may be more than 20 times greater than in our county in 1966.
As if the growing cougar population problems weren’t enough, wolves were added to the mix by being introduced into northeastern Washington in the 2000s. Since there were no wolves in the county in 1966 and there are now by some estimates well over 50 (8 confirmed packs), their growth factor would also be over 50 times. As these predator growth factor numbers show, it is the predators that have been encroaching on and invading our territory, not the other way around.
Wolves, along with cougars, have decimated the deer population in our area thereby forcing these deadly predators to seek food in the more populated areas increasing the killing of our pets and livestock and also increasing the possibility of a deadly attack on people. While representatives from the WDFW want to downplay this possibility, the killing of the bicyclist in Washington last year brought this reality home to all of us in a tragic way. Families walking with baby strollers and small children on bicycles are now enjoying Cottonwood Creek Road in the Chewelah valley where cougars are regularly seen crossing the road. My family and friends are among them and I fear for their lives. I also fear taking my great-grandchildren morel mushroom hunting like I do every year even armed with pepper spray.
83 year resident of the Chewelah area