My wife and I agree with Democratic state Represenative Brian Clem on most issues. But not on allowing individual counties to overturn Oregon's statewide ban on using dogs to hunt cougars.
This legislative session Clem sponsored House Bill 2624. The bill would have permitted county-by-county votes on a question that a majority of Oregonian voters said "NO" to twice: whether dogs should be allowed in cougar hunting.
Thankfully, HB 2624 never made it out of committee in the state Senate.
How to manage mountain lions became one of the more hotly debated issues of the session. Clem led the charge to allow counties to opt out -- by a local vote -- of the law that bans the use of hounds to hunt the lions. He won big in the House, only to see the bill die in the Senate, stymied by Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, a Portland Democrat who chairs the main environmental committee.
There are two main reasons why HB 2624 was a really bad idea. I talked about both of them in written testimony that I submitted to the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (attached in full as a continuation to this post).
First, allowing counties to opt out of voter-approved statewide initiatives would set a horrible precedent. I told the committee:
No longer would statewide initiatives truly apply in the entire state. The legislature will have given a green light to those who fail to defeat an initiative to say, “Hey, you let individual counties opt out of the cougar initiative; now we want the ability to have counties opt out of [whatever].”
Consider Measure 49, a reform of Measure 37, which passed in 2007 with over 60% of Oregonians voting in favor. Yet majorities in many counties were in favor of a weakened land use system. Imagine the legal chaos if a county could opt out of Measure 49. Or any statewide law that a majority of voters in that county deemed unacceptable to them.
Yes, the legislature would have to authorize the ability to opt out of a law. But if you do this in HB 2624, the gate will be opened for other attempts to undo the statewide will of Oregonians -- leading to a balkanization of our state. We already are unduly divided by unnecessary political rancor. Do we really want to add to that?
Second, cougars, a.k.a. mountain lions, are not a real problem in Oregon. They are an extremely minor threat to people (hugely less than domestic dogs are), and don't do much damage to livestock. So why kill them?
Well, my wife sat through several HB 2624 hearings. Apparently deer hunters are irked that cougars are killing deer -- which, of course, is what cougars do. And why cougars, wolves, and other top predators are part of a healthy ecosystem.
Hunters kill the largest and healthiest game animals. Top predators tend to kill the smallest and weakest. Thus cougars do a better job at game management than hunters do. No reason to hunt them with dogs, as I said in my testimony.
No one has ever been killed by a cougar in Oregon. Many people have been killed by hunters. So if we're really concerned about protecting human life, there should be a thinning of the ranks of hunters, not of cougars.
Irrational hysteria is the only reason this bill has been introduced. My wife and I live around cougars. I've walked by fresh cougar deer kills. I frequently take walks at night in woods frequented by cougars. I'm not afraid of cougars.
Hopefully legislators will become similarly educated about these valuable top predators before they vote on HB 2624. Just as wolf management shouldn't be based on "big bad wolf" fairy tales, neither should cougar management.
Below is the rest of what I said in my testimony. I sure hope I never have to submit something similar again. Let this issue die, Representative Clem.