Sheriff Songer Press Release on Senate Bill 5631

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Press Release from Sheriff Bob Songer

January 10, 2022

SENATE BILL 5613 is a misinformed attempt to limit the ability of County Sheriffs to protect lives and property. Evidenced by statements from Senator Kevin Van De Wege, one of the bill sponsors and chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bill is specifically targeting the Klickitat County Sherriff.

“The motivation comes from the Klickitat County sheriff,” said Sequim Democrat Kevin Van De Wege, who sponsored the bill with Kitsap County Democrat Christine Rolfes.

“I’m interested in and Christine Rolfes is interested in doing something that addresses Klickitat County,” said Van De Wege, chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“In my opinion and the department’s opinion, he is hunting down cougars that are not a problem,” said Van De Wege.

Apparently, the Senators did not bother with any research to form their opinion.  Following are statements from WDFW field staff.

Since starting the program, the sheriff’s office has removed 26 cougars. Before then, Fish and Wildlife was killing cougars at about the same rate, department game division manager Anis Aoude said.

“It’s not that much higher than removals we have done in the past,” he said.

Fish and Wildlife Capt. Jeff Wickersham said the sheriff has removed some cougars that the department would not have. On the other hand, Fish and Wildlife might have removed cougars the sheriff’s office did not, he said.

“Prior to the sheriff engaging in this work in 2019, my staff in the area was quite active in these type of removals,” he said.

“I don’t think (26 cougars) is too far off from where we might have been given the same circumstances,” Wickersham said.

 Senator Van De Wege is credited with this statement:

Van De Wege said he is reluctant to take authority away from sheriffs, but that he did not think the change in state law would have much effect outside Klickitat County.

“I think (Fish and Wildlife) has a very good track record of going after cougars,” he said.

Wildlife depredation is a state-wide problem.  Fact checking with the Washington Cattlemen’s Association would have helped the Senator have a reality-based opinion. 

Since the Klickitat County policy implementation there have been the following incidents:

  • Attack on a human. 
  • 5 incidents of cougars under or in homes.  (Cougar took a small dog through an open house door.)
  • Cougar in Goldendale City residential area.
  • Columbia High School FFA project area, on high school campus, several goats killed.
  • Numerous attacks on horses, sheep, cattle, poultry, llamas, and pets. Resulting in death or severe injury.

As per the County policy the WDFW will be invited to accompany sheriff’s office personnel when tacking of the animal, if time permits.

About 80% of the time WDFW has declined to participate due to availability of staff.

Therefore, the functional procedure has been to notify WDFW.  Then after a taking of a cougar or bear WDFW is provided full report and GPS location of cougar or bear, which allows WDFW to collect biological information.

Reality is contrary to this statement of Southwest Regional Director Kessina Lee.

Lee said Fish and Wildlife wants to be the primary responder to cougar calls to counsel people on living with cougars.

“While we see the number of removals has decreased for the time being, we also have to recognize that the lack of communication is hindering our ability to provide landowners, citizens, with the resources and services we have to offer,” she said.

“If we do a removal, we come with a lot of education,” she said. “That’s really a crucial difference.”

Reality is, by Klickitat County policy and practice WDFW is fully informed and invited to participate.  Any failure to follow through with education rests with WDFW.

Another inflammatory statement without factual basis from Director Lee:

Lee said the sheriff’s “fundamental premise” seems to be that any cougar sighted on the landscape is a potential public safety threat.

  • The cougar takings have all been based on incidents which had already resulted in damage or imminent threat due to proximity.  The mere presence on the landscape has not resulted in the pursuit or taking of any cougars.
  • The Sheriff’s Office has volunteer dog handlers on call.  Only after investigation by a Sheriff’s Deputy are any tracking dogs requested.   There is no unfounded random pursuit of cougars.

The Mountain Lion Foundation sued Klickitat County and lost.

The Klickitat County Prosecutor stated well the basis of the defense:

“The idea that during the enactment of the constitution that there would be any question whatsoever that the sheriff or any local constable would not have the ability to protect the citizens from predatory animals, such as black bears, cougars and bobcats, would have simply been laughable,” Quesnel said.

With creation of the original RCW there was a recognized need to include county officials, that need continues to this day.

Cougar incidents are very time sensitive and County response is quicker than WDFW staffing allows.

Counties should not be forced to take a back seat to state or federal authorities in protecting lives and property.

The citizens of Klickitat County, or any other County will not be safer by another limitation being placed on local law enforcement.

The Senators would do well to represent their far West side districts and not meddle in East side situations.

Their motivation seems to be serving as proxy for the Mountain Lion Foundation and power grabbing WDFW directors.

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