Cougar space use and movements in the wildland–urban landscape of western Washington

Authors

  • Brian N. Kertson,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Forest Resources, Box 352100, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195 USA
    • Present address: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 16018 Mill Creek Boulevard, Mill Creek, Washington 98012 USA. E-mail: brian.kertson@dfw.wa.gov

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  • Rocky D. Spencer,

    1. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 1775 12th Ave NW, Suite 201, Issaquah, Washington 98027 USA
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    • Deceased.

  • John M. Marzluff,

    1. School of Forest Resources, Box 352100, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195 USA
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  • Jeff Hepinstall-Cymerman,

    1. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, 180 E Green Street, Athens, Georgia 30602 USA
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  • Christian E. Grue

    1. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, Box 355020, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195 USA
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Abstract

The wildland–urban interface lies at the confluence of human-dominated and wild landscapes, creating a number of management and conservation challenges. Because wildlife ecology, behavior, and evolution at this interface are shaped by both natural and human phenomena, this requires greater understanding of how diverse factors affect ecosystem and population processes. We illustrate the challenge of understanding and managing a frequent and often undesired inhabitant of the wildland–urban landscape, the cougar (Puma concolor). In wildland and residential areas of western Washington State, USA, we captured and radiotracked 27 cougars to model space use and understand the role of landscape features in interactions (sightings, encounters, and depredations) between cougars and humans. Resource utilization functions (RUFs) identified cougar use of areas with features that were probably attractive to prey, influential on prey vulnerability, and associated with limited or no residential development. Early-successional forest (+), conifer forest (+), distance to road (−), residential density (−), and elevation (−) were significant positive and negative predictors of use for the population, whereas use of other landscape features was highly variable. Space use and movement rates in wildland and residential areas were similar because cougars used wildland-like forest patches, reserves, and corridors in residential portions of their home range. The population RUF was a good predictor of confirmed cougar interactions, with 72% of confirmed reports occurring in the 50% of the landscape predicted to be medium-high and high cougar use areas. We believe that there is a threshold residential density at which the level of development modifies the habitat but maintains enough wildland characteristics to encourage moderate levels of cougar use and maximize the probability of interaction. Wildlife managers trying to reduce interactions between cougars and people should incorporate information on spatial ecology and landscape characteristics to identify areas with the highest overlap of human and cougar use to focus management, education, and landscape planning. Resource utilization functions provide a proactive tool to guide these activities for improved coexistence with wildlife using both wildland and residential portions of the landscape.

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