The Oregon House is scheduled to vote today on a bill that would open the door for some sport-hunting of cougars with hounds for the first time since voters banned the practice in 1994.
Modeled after a program in Washington state, House Bill 2337 would create a pilot program that would return dogs to the woods on cougar hunts, but only in counties whose governing bodies request it.
The bill was scheduled for a third reading and passage today. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.
If it does, it would mark the first time a bill to restore public hound-hunting of cougars has passed either branch of the Oregon Legislature.
The bill is backed by the Oregon Hunters Association, whose president said he believes the change in political climate on the issue likely stems from an even split between Democrats and Republicans in the House and more public support for controlling the cougar population.
"There's more of an awareness by the public that we do, in fact, have a lot of cougars and they do impact other wildlife," said OHA President Fred Craig, of Grants Pass. If passed, the bill would go to the Oregon Senate, where Craig said be believes it has "a reasonable chance of passing."
"It would be great if our state was evolved enough to use a conservative approach to predators," said Spencer Lennard, program director of Big Wildlife. "I hope it will be killed in the Senate."
HB 2337 passed through the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee with a do-pass recommendation.
The Senate, however, has been less receptive to a cougar bill submitted there.
Senate Bill 474 would allow hunters to use dogs to pursue cougars only during the final three months of a season and only in regional hunt zones where cougar quotas had not been met. It has sat idle in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee without a single reading or hearing.
The House bill would require Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to come up with a program for allowing counties to opt in to sport-hunting with hounds. It also would have to be adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the agency.
The House bill was positioned as a way to reduce cougar-human conflicts and livestock predation in areas where other existing management tools have failed to manage cougars effectively. It was also written to sunset in 2020.
If the bill were to be adopted, ODFW would, in the year 2020, provide a summary of how the program aided in the collection of data for its Cougar Management Plan and whether the program would serve as a model for future cougar-management efforts, according to the bill.
Sport hunting with hounds was banned by voters in 1994. Since then, bills seeking to reinstitute some form of hound-hunting have appeared in every session.
Both chambers in 1995 voted to put the issue before voters, who again opted to ban hound-hunting in the subsequent vote a year later.
Sally Mackler, carnivore representative in Oregon for the Eugene-based group Predator Defense, said she plans to begin lobbying state senators Thursday if the bill passes the House. And if the bill passes the Senate, it still would have to survive Gov. John Kitzhaber's veto power, she said.
"The game is still afoot," Mackler said. "It's not over."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.