Cougars, bears and laws, oh my!
Oregon voters approved in 1994 and upheld in 1996 a ballot measure barring the use of dogs or bait in hunting cougars and bears.
Those methods are key to successful hunting of the big predators in particular, employing trained dogs to track cougars. And successful hunting, regulated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is the key to keeping populations of these predators at appropriate levels.
In the years since those elections, Oregons cougar counts have grown rapidly, exacting a toll not only on hunting opportunities, but on how secure rural residents feel in their homes.
A proposal passed late last month by the Oregon Senate will do nothing for Wallowa Countys elk herds, for example, which have been hard hit by the predation of cougars. Hunting opportunities have suffered along with the herds, as the state has been forced to drastically cut the number of hunting tags it sells.
The senate bill does, however, give citizens the legal right to shoot a bear or cougar that displays aggressive behavior toward humans, attacks pets or threatens a permanent structure.
Call it the homeowner hunting tag relief act, however, because we werent aware it was illegal to kill a large predator that is menacing you, regardless of where you are or what type of tag you might have in your wallet.
Were not opposed to the legislature and Gov. John Kitzhaber codifying such situations into law.
But neither do we believe the Senate bill will solve the problem plaguing the state.
Prior to 1994, a confrontation between human and cougar was a sufficiently rare event that it usually generated headlines in newspapers across the state.
Today such encounters often are relegated to serving as one-column news fillers far from Page 1.
And human-cougar meetings are likely to remain common as long as Oregons cougar population continues to rise. The Senate bill addresses only one result of that trend, but not its cause.
Certainly Oregon voters have made their wishes clear on this issue seven and five years ago. But we think the matter deserves a third look.
We think its likely that many voters will feel differently now. After all, back in 1994 and 1996 no lawmaker was talking about the need for a law allowing people to kill any animal with impunity. Obviously times have changed.