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Lawmakers debate cougar hunting bills

Posted 4/2/2013

Capital Press

SALEM, ORE — Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, has heard time and again that cougars have yet to kill anyone in Oregon.

“Is that what we’re waiting for?” she asked the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in a hearing April 2.

Sprenger is sponsoring House Bill 3395, which would allow the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to initiate pilot programs to use dogs to hunt cougars in counties that request it.

A second bill before the committee, House Bill 2624, would exempt a county from a state ban on use of dogs to hunt cougars if voters approve the exemption in a county election.

Sprenger said she has heard several stories from her rural constituents about school children in bus stops seeing cougars.

“This is not a perceived problem,” she said. “This is not something we think is going to occur. This is something that is occurring right now.”

If a county has a high incidence of encounters with cougars, they can decide to participate in this program, she said.

“Counties that don’t want to do this, don’t do it,” she said. “It is that simple.

“But please allow those of us where Ballot Measure 18 didn’t pass … allow us to manage our issues our way and a very appropriate way,” Sprenger said.

Ballot Measure 18, which passed in 1994, bans the use of dogs to hunt cougars.

While the measure passed, it failed in rural counties, said Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach.

“It is not the will of the whole state,” he said.

Further Krieger said, the ill effects of a growing cougar population are abundant in rural Oregon counties that make up the majority of land-base in the state, but absent in urban counties, that make up the majority of the state’ population base.

“The fact is, it is a disproportionate part of Oregon that is ill-affected,” he said.

“I believe we have a cougar problem in the state of Oregon,” Sprenger said. “We have lost the ability to manage the population.”

Rep. David Gomberg, D-Lincoln City, conversely, told committee members that Oregon voters have made their sentiments known on this issue and their voice should be heeded.

“I don’t understand the notion that if we take a statewide vote on a matter, that we come back and talk about the potential to repeal it on a county-by-county basis,” Gomberg said.

“If we are interested in, quote, dangerous animals, unquote, I think the procedure is already in place to address that through (the Oregon Department of) Fish and Wildlife,” Gomberg said.

“And we are taking out more of those animals than ever before,” he said.

“Cougar complaints are down, removing dangerous animals are up.

“I sure don’t see the need to start repealing statewide measures on a county-by-county basis to encourage sport hunting of these particular animals,” Gomberg said.

The committee took no action on the bills.

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