The Oregon House on Wednesday handily passed a bill that would open the door for some sport hunting of cougars with hounds in Oregon for the first time since voters banned the practice in 1994.
House Bill 2337 now will move to the Oregon Senate for consideration, marking the first time any proposed legislation to return sport hunting of cougars with hounds has passed one of the chambers of the Oregon Legislature. The vote was 45-14.
Modeled after a similar program in Washington state, the bill seeks to create a pilot program through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for public hound hunting, but only within counties whose governing bodies request it.
Tracking hounds widely are considered the most effective way to hunt cougars, and the dogs can track specific animals. ODFW statistics show that most cougars killed by hunters are targets of opportunity shot by deer or elk hunters.
The bill was lobbied for by the Oregon Hunters Association and earned the votes of Reps. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.
Esquivel said the bill would allow sport hunters to kill more cougars that cause livestock and other damage instead of using public funds to hire Wildlife Services agents who can use hounds on a limited basis.
"It's an avenue for us to make some money instead of spending some money, and the outcome is the same," Esquivel said after the vote.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, a vocal critic of the ODFW's cougar management strategies, voted against the measure. He said after Wednesday's session the vote was the wrong vote and that his colleagues should read peer-reviewed criticism of the department's cougar management plan. "I'm hoping the Senate will vote no or the governor will veto the bill," he said.
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 also was written to sunset in 2020.
If the bill is adopted, ODFW would be required in 2020 to provide a summary of how the program aided in the collection of data for its Cougar Management Plan and determine 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, but none have made it through a legislative chamber.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.