Everyone agrees that cougars do, in some situations, attack livestock, pets and, on rare occasions, humans. However, science and the sheriff do not agree on what constitutes dangerous cougar behavior.
increasing hunting of cougars can actually increase the risk of human-cougar conflicts.
“There is a misperception that seeing cougars in particular places at particular times correlates to abnormal behavior,” says Kertson. For example, some people wrongly believe it’s abnormal to see a cougar in broad daylight. Others wrongly believe there’s something amiss if a cougar doesn’t run away at the first sight of a human. Where the general public saw a cougar “stalking” a Utah hiker for six long minutes in a recent viral video, some experts instead saw a protective mother more determined to evict the hiker than to harm him.
When people see a cougar, they tend to interpret its behavior through a filter of fear. “People have an innate fear of cougars,” says Kertson. “They are big animals with big eyes.”
In Klickitat County, where many residents display signs thanking the sheriff for protecting their liberty, Songer is “creating a hysteria around mountain lions and bears,” says Stephen Capra of the anti-trapping group Footloose Montana, who visited the county with Peterson last year to meet with residents who are upset about the cougar shootings. “He’s built an army to go kill them.”
POWER OF THE COUNTY
Songer, who has never killed a cougar himself but has eaten cougar burgers prepared by a friend (“kind of a sweet taste,” he recalls), is part of a quasi-political movement led by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which was founded in 2011 and claims a membership of 400, of which about 160 are currently in office. Sheriffs are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but constitutional sheriffs believe they’re answerable only to the Constitution and voters. “The governor of the state of Washington is not my boss…or the feds,” Songer said in a speech at last year’s CSPOA convention. In November 2020, he announced that his deputies would not be enforcing any of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions.