A Washington judge has decided not to halt Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer’s cougar sighting response program.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by The Mountain Lion Foundation, and Klickitat County residents Abigail Spring and David Berger, regarding the sheriff’s implementation of the “Dangerous Wildlife Policies and Procedures,” program. The DWPP authorizes the sheriff and his deputies to deploy members of the sheriff’s volunteer posse to respond to dangerous animal sightings that threaten human safety, domestic pets, and livestock.
Through the sheriff’s volunteer posse program, eight hound hunters have been given the task of tracking and hunting the wildlife, Songer said in an interview when the lawsuit was filed.
Activists filing the lawsuit claimed a 1996 initiative approved by Washington voters banned the use of hounds to track and hunt cougars. They also claimed the volunteer posse members could not be deputized “to perform any act that he could not legally perform himself.”
Songer, in a written testimony to the court, cited an exemption within the 1996 law that “allows ‘employees or agents of county, state, or federal agencies while acting in their official capacities’ to use hounds to hunt black bears, cougars, and bobcats ‘for the purpose of protecting livestock, domestic animals, private property, or the public safety.’”
Songer also claimed that commissioned law officers “including myself, is an ex officio fish and wildlife officer,” arguing his subordinates were not acting outside their jurisdiction.
The decision comes as a win for the county. In a Benton County Superior Court hearing last week, County Prosecuting Attorney David Quesnel argued that sheriffs generally have broad discretion concerning enforcement of a law.
“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.
In a court order signed by Benton County Superior Court Judge Samuel Swanberg, the court sided with the county, saying the activists suing “have failed to demonstrate that (the county and Songer) are acting beyond their lawful jurisdiction.”
Swanberg stated the activists also failed to show that the county has “no other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the course of legal procedure.”
Attorney for the activists, Adam P. Karp, said that “while I appreciated Judge Swanberg listening to argument, I was disappointed that he asked not a single question of either side and issued a ruling with no reasoning, while misspelling my name twice in the process.”
Karp added that “we’re just getting started,” but did not clarify what that meant. The activists can appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
According to an Oregon Public Broadcasting report, the hound handlers deployed by county law enforcement have been called out at least 63 times over the last two years. At least 19 cougars have been killed.