By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bills in Salem — Senate Bill 126, Senate Bill 453, House Bill 2050 and House Bill 2181

Sponsors: Sens. Bill Hansell, R-Athena; Fred Girod, R-Stayton; Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach

History: Oregon voters banned using dogs for hunting cougars and bait for black bears in 1994 and two years later affirmed that ban. With the rise in the population of the animals in recent years, lawmakers have proposed letting counties opt out of the statewide ban.

What’s next: Proposals don’t have a hearing yet.

Online: Read the bill at http://bit.ly/1E68b0a

SALEM — Three Republican lawmakers want to give counties the ability to allow hunting of cougars with dogs, if residents decide that’s what they want.

Oregonians in 1994 passed a measure that banned using dogs and bait to hunt black bears and cougars. The ban has been a perennial target in Salem among Republicans, and some rural Democrats, who want counties to have the option of tracking and treeing cougars with hounds.

The bill is also a perennial long shot in part because it needs a two-thirds majority to pass and in part because of strong opposition from some Democrats and conservation and animal rights groups who say letting counties opt out of state law would set a bad precedent.

“In the larger scope of the bill there are concerns about any bill that would allow counties to opt out of state law,” said Arran Robertson, a spokesman with the conservation group Oregon Wild.

“That’s kind of a dangerous precedent to set for all sorts of things that don’t just have to do with this.”

The bills — there are two in the House and two in the Senate — would change a criminality aspect of the measure voters passed and affirmed two years later, so they would need at least 40 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate to pass.

The bills would allow county commissions to put the question on a ballot, or it could get on the ballot through the initiative process. Voters in those counties would then vote up or down to allow use of dogs or continue the ban.

A similar bill passed the House with bipartisan support in 2011 and 2013 but died in a Senate committee both times.

Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger said he hadn’t seen the bills but that he was concerned there might be too many cougars in the area.

“I would like for local counties to have local solutions to address this problem,” Unger wrote in an email. “The solution in Deschutes County with its population density will be different than in Harney County.”

None of the four bills has been scheduled for a hearing, and their sponsors weren’t available for comment.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife considers cougars — also known as mountain lions and pumas — a conservation success story.

The large cat was nearly eradicated in the 1960s but now numbers around 6,000 in Oregon.

“These bills create a patchwork, county-by-county scheme of wildlife management that is simply unworkable,” said Scott Beckstead, Oregon director for Humane Society of the United States.

Beckstead also weighed in on the recent killing of a cougar that was in a tree in southeast Bend. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife killed the animal.

The killing created an uproar in town because some wildlife advocates thought the animal could have been relocated far outside town. Beckstead agrees.

“The Humane Society of the United States believes that ODFW should resort to lethal control as a very last resort, and we agree that this particular cougar was a candidate for being tranquilized and relocated,” he said.

Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said the killing was necessary because of the cat’s encroachment into town.

“We just don’t relocate cougars (found) in town,” spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told The Bulletin. “If you see them, there is something wrong.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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