Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oregon bill would ease ban on hound hunting for cougars

Volunteer hunters would be used to kill some animals

The Associated Press

March 3, 2007

A new bill proposed by the Oregon Hunter's Association would allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to use volunteer hunters to kill problematic cougars and black bears using hounds -- a practice that voters banned with a 1994 ballot measure.

Hunters say they would be happy to help.

"This is empowering Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to utilize selected hunters to remove problem animals," Duane Dungannon, the state coordinator for the Oregon Hunters Association said of the bill. "There aren't too many paid trackers in the department."

Current state law allows landowners, or volunteers, to track down and kill cougars and bears that are causing damage but only within the landowner's property. On public lands, the state often sends professional hunters to remove problem animals.

The new legislation would allow a houndsman, approved by the state, to pursue the animals on private land if given the landowner's permission, and on adjacent public land.

Ron Anglin, the wildlife division administrator at the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the measure could potentially save the department money by reducing its reliance on paid trackers.

But environmentalists say the measure would rollback the voter approved-initiative that banned hunters from the practice of hunting cougars and bears with dogs 13 years ago.

"Deputizing hunters to do the dirty business of chasing cougars with hounds and gunning them down won't make this plan any better," Brian Vincent, a spokesman for Big Wildlife, an international wildlife protection organization. said of the management plan.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, are large, solitary animals. In Oregon, they've been a flash-point for conflict between hunters and environmentalists.

Big Wildlife says cougars cause limited problems and that the odds of being attacked by a cougar are smaller than the chances of winning the lottery. The big cat has yet to kill a human in the state.

But some landowners say cougars attack livestock and cause a public nuisance.

If approved, the measure could work with an aggressive cougar management plan introduced last April by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The plan attempted to reduce cougar populations in three areas in Oregon, each approximately 1,000 square miles. In one area near Heppner, nine out of 30 cougars have been killed.

Officials said the program was a work-in-progress to determine if removing the animals could reduce the number of livestock deaths and public complaints about the animals.

"It's an adaptive plan. We are continually testing to see how it works," said Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "They are removing the cougars and then we'll see (if) we see less complaints."

But environmentalists said there was little scientific evidence to back up the plan. article?AID=2007703030323

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