Kretz, Conservation Northwest agree on cougar pilot program extension

OLYMPIA – While often at odds on issues, Rep. Joel Kretz and Mitch Friedman, executive director for Conservation Northwest, announced they are working together to find a compromise on policies surrounding cougar management.

Senate Bill 5356, which would authorize a five-year extension of a pilot program that allows counties to opt into cougar hunting with hounds, was initially opposed by Friedman and his organization. However, he and Kretz have been working together to find common ground that meets the needs of those working to protect cougars and residents who are dealing with livestock and pet depredation and public safety issues.

“It’s true that Conservation Northwest and I have a basic and fundamental disagreement on how to address cougar management in the state of Washington, but as we hashed out our differences this week, we found a sliver of common ground and are both willing to work in good faith to build on it,” said Kretz, R-Wauconda. “We have a handshake deal and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

Kretz, who represents the Seventh District, explained the agreement is one that would allow for extension of the cougar hunting pilot program while looking into the complex science of cougar management, reforming cougar boot hunt policy and increasing penalties assessed for cougar poaching.

“Conservation Northwest was a core proponent of Initiative 655, which banned hound hunting of cougars back in 1996. But even with the benefit of research on cougar management since that effort, the science is not crystal clear or widely agreed upon. I think Representative Kretz and I want the best policy that yields the best results for both cougars and residents living within cougar habitat,” Friedman said. “If we can build on this understanding in a meaningful way that benefits people and wildlife, we should.”

Both men expressed the need to bring their viewpoints to the table and have them balanced with sound science, the realities of the unpredictable nature of wild animals and stricter penalties for poaching cougars.