What department do you work in and what is your job title?
I am the wildlife program manager for Kalispel Natural Resources Department. (KNRD)
How long have you worked for Kalispel Tribe?
I have been with the Kalispel Tribe for 11 years.
Tell us about the cat project: Cougar depredations and Public Safety
I have been helping the WDFW manage cougar depredations and public safety incidents for 15 years and we saw a serious increase in incidents about five years ago. I was interested in finding a way to proactively approach the issue, rather than reactively lethally remove cats after they have become a problem. The cougar project is an investigation into behavior modification by “hazing” them with trained tracking dogs.
What is the goal of the project?
The goal of the project is to test methods of aversive conditioning, by doing that we hope to 1) keep people and their pets/livestock safe from cougar depredations 2) provide a useful tool for wildlife managers across the country that are struggling with cougar problems and 3) protect cougars from agency removal by conditioning them to avoid humans, farms, and homes.
How has the project impacted/helped the community education-wise?
It has been a great tool for outreach and education about cougars in the area. Most people are really receptive to the idea and appreciate that we are working on non-lethal approaches to cougar problems.
What has been the response from the community?
The community response has been really positive. When people have cougars at or near their homes they are often scared and have valid concerns about their safety and their pets and livestock. Most people really seem to like our approach and they appreciate updates on the collared cougar’s location and behavior as we monitor them after capture. It’s a great opportunity to educate folks on ways to protect their pets and livestock and make their home/farm less attractive to unwelcome wildlife.
What is the progress with your project?
We are just beginning our third and final year of the project and have gathered complete data on 30 cougars. We are working on building a more robust control dataset and will continue through the winter of 2022-2023.
How many dogs do you have, and how long does it take to train them?
I have four hounds that are trained to track and tree cougars. Training them takes several years of dedicated effort and lots of exposure to different conditions and situations. Since we do so much work around homes and farms, these dogs have to be trained exceptionally well to keep them from messing around with house cats or other dogs. There are a lot of distractions for a dog working around a neighborhood or agricultural area and we need our dogs to focus on finding and pursuing the scent of the particular cougar that we are tracking.
What are some of the partners that you interact with? Who calls you?
Bruce Duncan is a contractor helping with the project. Bruce owns and trains hounds and has decades of experience capturing cougars in this area. We are also cooperating with Stevens County Sheriffs’ department and their Special Wildlife Deputy, Jeff Flood. Jeff has had hounds for years and has experience as a hunting guide. He has been our primary tree climber when we need to lower tranquilized cougars from the tree. We also have a veterinarian helping with the project and several volunteers that have experience with tracking dogs and cougar captures.