The treed cougar flattens his ears as the howls of professional hunting dogs mix with the shouts of Makah tribal wildlife biologists in a snowy forest in the hook Game Management Unit near Neah Bay.A tranquilizer dart finds its mark and the adult male falls with a whump into a tarp rigged as a safety net. Carefully lowered to the ground, the 170-pound, 7-foot, 7-inch long cat (tail included) gets a radio collar tag that will help track his movements.
While February’s snow on the North Olympic Peninsula was unwelcomed by many, it’s exactly the kind of weather conditions needed to successfully track and collar cougars.
“Without the snow, it’s hard to track cougars, even with dogs,” Rob McCoy, wildlife division manager for the Makah Tribe said. “But snow makes fresh tracks easy to find and we can get the dogs on the proper track.”
The tribe wants to get a better idea of the cougar population in the area as it relates to black-tail deer populations. “We wanted an idea of cougar prey selection and rates of predation,” said Shannon Murphie, wildlife biologist for the Makah Tribe. “There hasn’t really been much work done on cougars on the Olympic Peninsula.”
The six collars were paid for by the tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and a Bureau of Indian Affairs treaty tribal wildlife management grant.
In the future, the tribe would like to add a few more collars as funding permits and replace batteries in the existing collars to add at least another year of data.
“Deer have more predators than elk. Bear, cougar, coyote and bobcat will prey on deer fawns. Cougars are the primary predator on elk, but it seems they select deer more often. This study will help support or disprove that idea,” McCoy said. “We could not have done this project without the contributions of WDFW and the western Washington treaty wildlife fund,” McCoy said.
For more information, contact: Rob McCoy, Wildlife Division Manager, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3058; Shannon Murphie, wildlife biologist, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3069