A lawsuit seeks to declare Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer’s cougar sighting response program illegal.

Songer had announced the creation of the program in a post on the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page dated Aug. 27, 2019, calling cougar sightings in the communities of Goldendale, White Salmon, Glenwood, Husum, and other neighborhoods in the county a “serious PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERN.”

The program, which was later published under the sheriff’s directive titled “Dangerous Wildlife Policy and Procedures” (DWPP), gives sheriff’s deputies as well as members of the volunteer community policing program, Klickitat County Sheriff's Posse, the authority to “respond to all reported dangerous Wildlife conflicts that is a risk to human safety or domestic pets and livestock.

“A fully commissioned deputy will be in charge of the incident response and has the authority of the sheriff to invoke the appropriate action, under (Revised Code of Washington) 77.15.245 (2) by using hound dogs in tracking down and euthanizing the dangerous animal,” Songer wrote in the post.

The post noted, “The Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office will work closely with Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in carrying out this program. However, the Sheriff Office will be in charge of the program.”

The civil complaint, filed May 17 in Benton County Superior Court and obtained by Columbia Gorge News, alleges Songer and the county violated state law by “illegally killing cougars with the use of hounds.”

The complaint also alleges Songer has not reported to WDFW all of the cougars he and the seven hound hunters deployed under the 140-member volunteer sheriff’s posse have killed since the creation of the program, and that some of the cougars dispatched under the program “did not injure or kill any livestock or demonstrate any threat to human safety.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, county residents Abigail Spring and David Berger, retained the services of Bellingham-based animal law attorney Adam P. Karp, who asserted that the clause cited by Songer does not grant the sheriff, his deputies or members of the civilian posse the authority to both hunt cougars with hounds and implement the DWPP.

"The flaw in the Sheriff's position is that he embraces a prohibitory piece of legislation passed by initiative in 1996 as if it were a positive grant of authority," Karp wrote in an email, citing voter-approved Initiative 655, which outlawed the hunting of cougars with dogs in the state of Washington with limited exceptions for “employees or agents of county, state, or federal agencies while acting in their official capacities” in situations to "(protect) livestock, domestic animals, private property, or the public safety."

"As the State has not expressly given the Sheriff authority to hunt with hounds, he lacks any legal justification for his own such conduct, and cannot delegate such non-authority to anyone else," Karp said.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration by the court that the agency's use of hounds to hunt cougars is unconstitutional, as well as a judgment stripping the civilian posse of any credentials to hunt cougars with the use of hounds or other means.

It also seeks a judgment by the court barring the sheriff’s office from killing cougars damaging property without authorization from WDFW.

The plaintiffs, according to the complaint, argue the program has resulted in the euthanizing of at least 16 cougars between August 2019 and July 2020.

Songer declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the litigation.

The case is still pending under Benton County Superior Court, County Clerk Josie Delvin said.