Before Laurel and I enter into our mellow yin Memorial Day weekend mood, it was balancing to experience some yang outrage this morning after reading a Statesman Journal story: “GOP sidesteps public on hunting bill.”
I’ve got to hand it to the Oregon House Republicans. It isn’t easy to score a triple outrage, but they managed to do it through an amendment to a bill that would let counties overturn statewide voter-approved restrictions on cougar and bear hunting. A House committee approved the bill without advance notice, undoubtedly because if environmental and animal-rights activists had known about this move ahead of time they would have expressed their own outrage to the committee members.
The AP article gave the legislators only an outrage double, saying “The move was controversial on two levels: For trying to bypass the will of voters and for sneaking the true meaning of the bill through the committee, thus avoiding public testimony.”
It is indeed outrageous for House Republicans to argue that the civil unions bill being considered by the legislature shouldn’t be approved because it goes against the will of Oregon voters who approved a ban on gay marriage, while they try to circumvent the will of Oregon voters who approved a ban on using bait to hunt bears and dogs to hunt cougars in 1994—and reaffirmed that decision in 1996, when a measure to repeal the law was rejected.
And it is doubly outrageous for House Republicans to get on their high horse about how government has to be more responsive to citizens, returning power to the people, when they obviously don’t give a rip about hearing public testimony concerning the loosening of bear and cougar hunting rules (the proposed law would allow county commissions to put a vote on the local ballot on whether to allow the practices that were banned statewide).
I’d add a third moral outrage to these legal and political outrages, which is how I justify awarding the House Republicans a triple. Rep. Patti Smith is reported to have said that cougars are growing so numerous, lawmakers have to put their concern for protecting human life ahead of their worries about voter backlash.
That’s ridiculous. In the last 100 years there have been 14 documented deaths from cougar attacks in the United States, while on average there are 12 fatal dog attacks every year. If Rep. Smith wants to save human lives from animal attacks, she should be sponsoring a bill to ban ownership of pit bulls and other dangerous breeds.
Even better, if she really wants to protect human life, would be for her to urge that taxes be increased so that cuts to the Oregon Health Plan could be rescinded. Lots of Oregonians are going to die because they don’t have adequate health care; I’ll be surprised if even one person dies in the next few years from a cougar attack.
Laurel and I live on ten rural acres. Cougars have been seen near us. We walk at night through forested areas. And we’re happy to co-exist with cougars. We don’t fear them, but we respect them.
Since cougars aren’t a genuine threat to humans, why are people so adamant about hunting them down? I believe that Rep. Smith and other cougarphobes are afraid of an animal capable of challenging Homo sapiens. They like to believe that humans have the right to do what they want with the natural world: pollute it, kill it, clear cut it, whatever we desire.
Cougars, bears, and wolves remind us that when we’re stripped down to our essential human selves—no firearm in hand—we’re no match for some of our fellow animals. They literally would rip us to shreds in a fair fight.
So I might support a bill that would allow hunting of cougars with dogs if the hunter had to kill the treed cougar with his bare hands—or maybe a knife, if we want to give humans a better chance. Let’s see how many brave hunters would take up the challenge. I’m willing to bet: very few. Likely, none.
People call hunting a “sport.” It isn’t. A sport is a contest. Killing an animal with a high-powered rifle from a hundred yards away is no contest. Shooting an animal with the aid of dogs or bait is even less of a contest. Voters recognized this when they passed the 1994 law. The House Republicans should have respected the moral will of the people.