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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow On cougars, bears: Let locals choose

On cougars, bears: Let locals choose


Attempts have been made to change, or even eliminate, Oregon’s ban on using dogs to hunt cougars and bears, and using bait to attract bears, since voters approved Measure 18 in 1994.

The latest proposal strikes us as a reasonable compromise between the current situation and an outright reversal of those restrictions.

It’s House Bill 2624. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had a public hearing on the bill Tuesday.

We like the legislation because it would give voters a chance to decide whether the limits on cougar and bear hunting should continue.

But here’s the best part of the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Brian Clem, a Democrat from Salem: It would let voters in each of the state’s 36 counties decide how to manage cougar and bear hunting in their countioes.

Measure 18, by contrast, was a statewide vote.

Although 52 percent of voters were in favor of the hunting restrictions, the measure was opposed by a majority of voters in most counties. In Baker County, 72 percent of voters cast a “no” vote on the measure.

Measure 18, then, was a classic example of how voters in the state’s most populous county — Multnomah, which includes Portland — can, in effect, overrule their fellow Oregonians.

That’s always a possibility in our electoral system, of course, and we’re not suggesting it should be changed.

But neither is it undemocratic to have elections at the county level.

We don’t, after all, let voters in Portland or Eugene or Astoria decide who serves on the Baker School Board or the Baker City Council.

Managing cougars and bears isn’t quite equivalent — like other game animals, they are legally considered the property of the state, which is to say all Oregonians.

Except the effects cougars and bears can have hardly apply equally across the state.

That Oregon’s cougar population has doubled since voters approved Measure 18 — from about 3,000 to 6,000 — is of little consequence to urbanites.

But for ranchers, such a significant increase in the populations of predators such as cougars and bears can directly, and negatively, affect their business.

Fortunately, Oregon is not at a crossroads where we must choose either to slaughter our bears and cougars or spare them.

Bears were plentiful even before Measure 18, and cougar populations were already rising — though the rate increased sharply after 1994.

HB 2624 would in no way imperil either species.

Although we’re confident that voters in many counties, including Baker, would choose to overturn Measure 18, the current annual limits would remain on the number of cougars that can be killed in the six regions of the state (the annual quota for the Blue Mountains is 245 cougars, and in 2012 a total of 161 cougars were killed: 99 by hunters, 62 for damage complaints or other causes).

The bottom line is that HB 2624 would give residents across Oregon a voice in an important local issue, without threatening the state’s thriving cougar and bear populations.

 
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