SALEM — A bill that would allow the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to hire agents to hound-hunt cougars under a management plan adopted by the agency would sunset in 2014.

SALEM — A bill that would allow the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to hire agents to hound-hunt cougars under a management plan adopted by the agency would sunset in 2014.

But that didn't sit well with conservationists and wildlife advocates who showed up in force Thursday to oppose House Bill 2971 before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

The sunset provision was an amendment drafted by the chairman, Sen. Brad Avakian, D-Beaverton, who had hoped to pass the bill out of committee. But a late afternoon Senate session cut that move short, not to mention the remarks of those who signed up to testify.

The bill also allows the use of dogs and bait pits in hunting bears.

"It's unfortunate that committee members won't take the time to understand this complex issue," said Sally Mackler of Jacksonville, one of the most outspoken opponents of the bill.

"A lot of people came prepared with good testimony, but were rushed through," she said.

Mackler, wildlife chairwoman of the Oregon Sierra Club, characterized the proposal as an ill-disguised end-run around Ballot Measure 18 banning hound hunting for cougars and bears.

Voters approved Measure 18 in 1994 and two years later rejected an effort to repeal it.

Stephanie Tidwell of Ashland, executive director of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, argued that ODFW can put a badge on a hound hunter and call him an agent, but it is still recreational hunting.

Referring to the trapping and killing of three cougars several months ago outside a Jackson County management zone, Tidwell commented, "ODFW can't even manage and direct its own staff, how do we expect them to train and oversee armed volunteers?"

The agency had planned to take a neutral position on the bill which passed the House without the sunset provision. But Ron Anglin, head of the wildlife division of ODFW, supported the bill with the new language.

In addition, Avakian said the agency must conduct a statistical analysis on cougar populations and the impact on game animals such as elk.

ODFW is also required to adopt rules on the appointment and training of agents, including when and where all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles can be employed.

The committee will probably take up the bill again early next week.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer in Salem. Reach him at jepsen34@open.org.