Alliance transcends boundaries to conserve cougars
Tribes of Washington and researchers work together to strengthen the relationship between cougars and the land.
Vanessa Castle and her uncle Sonny Sampson laid their open palms on an anaesthetized cougar’s chest. Their hands rose and fell with its breath, as rain fell on the lush coastal forest of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Here, a research team is studying cougars by creating an alliance that transcends nations.
Both Castle and Sampson work for their tribe, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, as natural resource technicians. Their tribe is part of the Olympic Cougar Project, a collaboration including Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, and Skokomish Tribes, respectively. Panthera is leading the project, which is also utilizing cougar genetic data and cougar GPS collar location data from the State of Washington, along with remote camera images from the National Parks Service, to gain a fuller understanding of the local cougar population. The collaborative research team is working together across state and tribal jurisdictional boundaries to conserve cougars on the peninsula and develop research tools, including remote camera grid technology, which will allow participating tribes to estimate the abundance of cougars, deer, elk, and other species. The goals are to determine the cougar population to conserve it, and to estimate how many deer and elk are in the tribes’ historic use area to ensure their ability to sustainably hunt them there, and in turn, strengthen the tribes’ food sovereignty.
The Olympic Cougar Project brings together western science and traditional ecological knowledge for the benefit of wildlife, people and land. “It’s a banner project under which people can unite and work together,” said Dr. Mark Elbroch, Puma Program Director for Panthera and one of the project’s leaders. “It’s a community approach as is rarely seen in the U.S.” As cougars prowl the secret places of the Elwha, partners of the Olympic Cougar Project work together to ensure the survival of their descendants.