We haven't heard about cougar sightings in or near the mid-valley lately. But our Oregon mountain lions have made their appearance in at least two of the bills introduced in the 2013 legislature, getting under way on Feb. 4.
One is Senate Bill 428, introduced by Sen. Larry George, a Republican from Sherwood. He offered the bill on behalf of a hunting organization, the Oregon Sportsmen Association.
As you know, Oregon voters decided in the 1990s to ban the hunting of cougars and bears with bait or hounds. During at least the last two sessions of the legislature, Rep. Sherrie Sprenger of Scio and others tried and failed to authorize some cougar hunting with dogs as a way to thin the animals' numbers in counties where cougars had killed livestock or frightened people by showing themselves near homes and schools.
Now, the Senate bill would allow the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to authorize hunters to go after cougars with their dogs during the last three months of the season, which lasts from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, if it looks as though the kill quota for a particular hunt zone might not otherwise be met.
Another cougar bill is HB 2624, sponsored by Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem. It would allow counties to exempt themselves from the dog or bait hunting ban regarding cougars and bears if county voters pass an initiative to that effect.
Last year, ODFW set a statewide cougar killing quota of 777. Some 241 were bagged by hunters -- without the help of dogs -- and another 252 were killed otherwise, most by government hunters called in to get rid of problem cougars. There's no guarantee that if more were killed by hunters using dogs, the number of reported cougar conflicts would decline.
Almost 500 cougars -- roughly 8 percent of all the ones we have -- were killed last year, some because of necessity and some for recreation or fun. It's hard to see -- and I don't expect a majority of lawmakers to see -- a compelling need to increase the number of cougars killed for fun. (hh)