By Hasso Hering, Albany Democrat-Herald democratherald.com
April 20, 2011. The Oregon House Wednesday passed, 45-14, a bill allowing some hunting of cougars with hounds. The bill, HB 2337, now goes to the Senate.
The bill would direct the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to start a pilot program of hunting cougars with dogs in selected management areas. Counties could petition to become part of the pilot program, and Linn County likely would do so.
Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, who carried the bill on the floor, said it was intended to reduce the number of cougar conflicts in areas where the cats have killed livestock and were killing an unusual number of elk and deer calves.
Speaking on the floor, Sprenger cited the case of a mother and son near Brownsville who last year lost six sheep to confirmed cougar kills. That has an economic impact, she said.
Sprenger said that according to ODFW, the number of cougars had risen from about 3,000 in 1994, when voters banned hunting them with dogs, to an estimated 6,000 now.
The increase has come even though the cougar hunting season now is year-round and hunters who get one can turn around and get another tag.
The only legislator speaking against the bill was Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland. He questioned the validity of research done by the wildlife department, citing one reviewer who said there was no scientific basis for the conclusions in the department’s cougar management plan.
Sprenger said there are no practical nonlethal methods for reducing conflicts between cougars and livestock.
Cougars can’t be fenced out, and no barn is big enough to hold all the sheep on a ranch every night, as she said someone had suggested at a town hall meeting she held last summer.
The bill needed at least 40 votes to advance, though Democratic Rep. Brian Clem of Salem, one of its supporters, said the requirement was absurd.
According to lawyers for the legislature, by removing the crime of cougar hunting with dogs in some cases, the bill comes under the requirements of Measure 11, which set minimum prison sentences, and therefore it needed a two-thirds majority.
Clem said cougars were a hot topic in rural Oregon, though not perhaps in Portland, and passing the bill would help “heal the urban-rural divide.”