Fatal WA cougar attack: Are you on the Northwest menu?

This mountain lion is believed to have killed one of two men it attacked over the weekend in Washington State. (Screen capture, YouTube, CBS News)

The fatal attack by a cougar on two mountain bikers in the Cascade foothills east of Seattle has triggered some interesting conversations on social media, including one on a popular hiking forum that includes questions about the legality of shooting a “protected species” in self-defense.

Mountain lions are not a “protected species” in Washington State. They are a game animal and they are hunted through fall and winter in the Evergreen State. However, in 1996, voters passed an initiative that banned hunting cougars and bears with hounds, and that may be the source of confusion for some folks. But the ban was political and emotional, not scientific, and the politics will likely resurface if a change is suggested.

The critter believed to be responsible for Saturday’s deadly attack was killed by wildlife officers. Some reports say they spotted the big cat standing over the body of its victim, and shot it a short time later.

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The attack set off some alarms, with some people wondering about their safety in the abundant wild lands along the Cascade slope. It has been nearly 100 years since the last fatal cougar attack in Washington State, but there have been more recent deaths in other states, notably California, Colorado, British Columbia and New Mexico.

Is it likely a cougar will attack a human? Not really, according to various experts. In the event a person encounters a cat, the thing not to do is run. If attacked, stand and fight – including shoot if there’s a gun handy – or throw rocks, wave arms, yell; anything to suggest to the cougar that it doesn’t want to tangle.

However, the weekend attack did involve some fighting back, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

The Saturday attack in timber country north of North Bend serves as a reminder that, as has been observed over the years by various natives of the region, there are “things with teeth” in those parts. One man, George Kelley, observed, “That cougar attack is a reminder that nature is not a petting zoo.”

Many hikers now carry sidearms in the wilds. Dave Workman)

That’s one reason why a fair number of hikers carry firearms – usually handguns – on their treks into the Evergreen State back country. Over the weekend, CFL spoke with at least two different hikers, including one woman, who were armed. Both were hiking solo.

The unfortunate victim in Saturday’s incident was identified as S.J. Brooks. His bike companion was identified as Isaac Sederbaum, who managed to escape and get help after being bitten on the head.

The mountain lion, according to several reports, was “emaciated.” Estimated to be 3-4 years old, the big cat only weighed about 100 pounds, when it normally should have been heavier.

The Legislature can change the law to allow hound hunting. Proponents of the ban would have a fit, but now sportsmen have a new – albeit emotional – tool, an argument used over the years by gun prohibitionists: “If it saves just one life, isn’t it worth it?”

 

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