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Wildlife officials to take vote on volunteer agent standards

Oregon wildlife managers will take one more shot Friday in adopting strict clean-living standards for houndsmen tapped as volunteer agents to chase and kill bears and cougars on the state's behalf.

Volunteer agents now must have no past felony convictions or any convictions involving hounds or the illegal killing of any wildlife, animal or domestic abuse under draft rules proposed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Potential volunteers also must have no convictions involving illegal drugs or alcohol, never had his or her hunting or fishing privileges suspended because of a wildlife violation, the new draft states.

The changes represent tighter requirements requested last month by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission when it failed to adopt looser restrictions brought forward by ODFW managers.

Those initial requirements would have allowed a houndsman with a past criminal wildlife conviction to become a state agent, if the ODFW so chose.

"Requiring them to have a clean record is a minimum the state should have come forth with in the beginning," said Sally Mackler, wildlife chairwoman for the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club and a staunch opponent of the program.

"It's better," Mackler said. "It's tightened it up so we don't have felons or wife-beaters representing the state of Oregon."

However, Mackler still finds fault with what the volunteer-agent program does not contain, such as a clear description of what volunteer agents will do, how they will be supervised and even money to manage the program.

"It's just an open ticket," Mackler said. "It's very irresponsible."

Ron Anglin, the ODFW's Wildlife Division administrator, said he believes the latest draft meets thresholds spelled out by the commission last month. He said it remained unclear whether the tight restrictions would shrink the pool of would-be agents.

"It may, to some extent," Anglin said. "It's hard to project."

Anglin said the ODFW doesn't need an extra budget to monitor volunteers. ODFW division leaders in Salem also plan to "provide direction" in how agency district offices will manage the volunteers, which is the kind of day-to-day minutiae that the commission rarely addresses specifically, Anglin said.

The draft was the latest attempt by the ODFW to settle how it will use a provision spelled out in a 1994 voter ban on hound-hunting bears and cougars other than for administrative purposes.

The ban's language allows agents to use dogs to track, chase, tree and kill bears and cougars on the ODFW's behalf, but the language never defined the criteria for appointing agents.

The Oregon Legislature last year passed a law ordering the commission to set the standards, leading to the draft rules.

Anglin said he expects at least 20 volunteer agents statewide, but said he expected federal Wildlife Services to handle cases involving public safety and damage. However, at least 20 volunteer houndsmen scattered around the state were needed largely as backups, Anglin said.

Friday's vote is independent of a federal suit filed last month by animal activists and a set of Southern Oregon ranchers seeking to ban federal Wildlife Services agents from killing cougars for an ODFW target-area study. As part of that study, cougars are being killed within a 996-square-mile area of the Rogue Valley and two other regions in eastern Oregon to test whether cutting cougar densities will reduce damage complaints in a specific area.

Dave Williams, Wildlife Services' Oregon director, was served with a copy of the suit Jan. 26, federal court records show. He has until March 26 to respond, records state.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Janice M. Stewart.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.