‘The backlash was deafening:’ Listeners prompt state wildlife commissioner to resign

Dec 13, 2021, 5:28 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2021, 9:36 am
elk, Wildlife and Fisheries...
A herd of elk lie on the mudflow of the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens, Washington. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Calling the study about dead elk calves a “political quagmire,” a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) commissioner has abruptly resigned from his new appointment.

Dori: Are new state wildlife commissioners turning their backs on science?

For Washingtonians who never hunt, fish, or eat venison, it’s unrelatable. But for biologists and outdoorspeople, the case is vital to the state’s environmental eco-balance.

Now-former commissioner Fred Koontz of Duvall submitted his letter of resignation to Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday, following an outcry from hunters and other wildlife recreationalists over a story the Dori Monson Show reported on Friday.

The case involved a recent public WDFW meeting, at which Koontz downplayed the number of elk calf deaths caused by an increasing number of predatory cougars in this state. According to show guest Tom Nelson, host of 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Outdoor Line” Saturday show, Koontz called the “socially accepted number” of dead elk calves “more important than the biological number.”

“Once we played that for your listeners,” Nelson told Dori, “the backlash was deafening.”

On Friday, Nelson told Dori Monson Show listeners that Koontz’s comment was “the single dumbest thing I have ever heard a commissioner utter in 30 years. When you remove science from wildlife management, you’re removing facts and data.”

The facts, Nelson says, involve studies showing a significant number of elk calves collared in southeast Washington for ecosystem tracking purposes were slain by cougars. Experts believe these cougars are part of a growing population unchecked due to Initiative 655, a 1996 law prohibiting hunting cougars with hounds.

In the Cascades, scientific studies posted by WDFW show a large male cougar slaughters an elk calf every nine to 12 days in the wild. Without controlling the cougar population, Nelson explained, sustaining a healthy long-term elk population is impossible.

“What they (voters) don’t understand,” Dori told listeners, “is that in saving one cougar, you are condemning the lives of beautiful elk and deer, where they can suffer one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable … by tooth, fang, and claw – and the elk or deer is alive at the time it is taken down by the cougar.”

Ironically, Nelson added, even though hunters here cannot legally use the methods outlawed by Initiative 655, Washington state must still “take cougars out.”

“Instead of allowing hunters, the state hires people with hounds so they can manage the (cougar) population,” Nelson said.

Listen to Dori’s follow-up interview with Tom Nelson here.

Click here to read former WDFW commissioner Fred Koontz’s letter of resignation.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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‘The backlash was deafening:’ Listeners prompt state wildlife commissioner to resign