Governor Kulongoski and the Democrat-dominated state legislature did a lot of good things this year. But the decision to allow volunteer hunters to kill cougars with the help of dogs was atrocious for several reasons.
First, it subverts the clear intent of the voters, who twice passed a measure that prohibits the use of bait and dogs in hunting cougars and bears.
So what if a hunter has a free pass to get out of Measure 18 from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife? Unfortunately, the voter-approved law allows cougars to be killed by a state agency. The writers of it surely never expected that there would be this sort of runaround the will of the people.
Oh, I can almost hear conservatives firing up their blog comment machine. "Brian," they'll say, "you were for HB 3540, which changes Measure 37 – which itself changed Oregon's land use laws. Isn't it hypocritical to be against a change to Measure 18?"
No, it isn't. For one thing, the Measure 37 fix was referred to a November vote. I'd like to see a vote on HB 2971, the cougar killing law. I'm pretty sure that it'd be shot down.
For another thing, there are obvious problems with Measure 37. There aren't any serious problems with cougars in Oregon. The plain fact is that hunters pose a much greater risk to human safety than cougars do. Cougars pose almost no threat to people.
Showing how senseless the Oregon cougar plan is, an article on the American Association for the Advancement of Science web site points out that killing cougars indiscriminately produces more potential human-cougar conflicts, not less.
In fact, such efforts have the opposite of its intended effect, says Rob Wielgus, a wildlife biologist at Washington State University in Pullman. Hunting in that state actually led to more cougars--and more complaints about problem animals. The reason is that hunters were permitted to indiscriminately shoot cougars, and they often killed females and older males. When the old males died, young ones arrived from neighboring territories, and it's these animals with which humans tend to collide.
This trend has already occurred in Oregon. In the last 13 years, ODFW has greatly expanded the hunting of lions. In 1993, the year before voters banned hunting cougars with hounds, hunters bagged 160 cougars, an additional 27 were killed as problem animals, and the state received 276 cougar-related complaints from residents. In 2006, hunters shot 284 cougars, whereas another 128 were killed for their potential threat, and officials heard 443 complaints.
Though they might seem paradoxical, figures like these are what one should expect, says Wielgus. "This kind of heavy hunting merely exacerbates the problem" he says. "And apparently the Oregon officials want to travel down this same old road." Adding dogs back to the chase, which greatly help hunters find cougars to shoot, will only increase the pace.
The folks over at Daily Yonder have done a good job of analyzing the politics behind the subversion of Measure 18 (think "Oregon Cattlemen's Association").
Here's a video of a cougar being killed with the aid of dogs. This should be required viewing for every ill-informed legislator who voted to subvert the will of the people. (Warning: not for faint-hearted animal lovers.)