Back in 1994, Oregon voters outlawed hunting cougars with dogs. But the issue keeps coming up in Salem. This year there are four bills in the state Legislature that would allow counties to opt out of the statewide ban.
Gary Lewis, a writer and outdoorsman based in Bend, says the issue isn’t so much about cougars as it is about controlling a major predator of mule deer. “I don’t care whether I ever get the opportunity to shoot a cougar or not. That’s not what it’s about for me. I want to protect the mule deer, which are one of our more vulnerable big game animals.”
Scott Beckstead helped to get the statewide ban – Measure 18 – passed back in the 1990s. He’s the Oregon director for the Humane Society of America, and he says voters made the right decision. “Suggesting we should be allowing deliberate cruelty to cougars as a means of boosting the population of mule deer… I think that goes against Oregonians’ value system.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says there are more than 6,000 cougars in Oregon right now, and hunters killed about 260 of them last year, either by stalking them or using calls to lure the big cats. Lewis says those methods aren’t very effective. “You’re sitting there making the sound of [the cougar’s] favorite meal. And it knows it’s going to have to fight off something when it gets there. And so that’s what scares off a lot of people away from that type of hunting.”
Beckstead disagrees: “They’re killing 2-3 times more cougars now with these methods than they were when they were hunting with hounds.”
The latest studies from wildlife managers, says Beckstead, show that allowing hunters to take out the largest male cougars is not the most effective way of dealing with cougars encroaching on human settlements. “The best cougar managers in the world are the cougars themselves. When you leave these animals alone you have fewer conflicts,” he argues.
One concern with allowing counties to repeal the statewide ban is that it would create a patchwork of wildlife management plans throughout the state. Lewis says it doesn’t make sense for urban voters to decide how rural wildlife should be managed:
“Those people who are making these emotional decisions – emotional or logical decisions – in that tri-county area … those decisions affect people in Harney County, in Lake County, in Deschutes County, Wallowa County, where these people may never travel. They don’t know the conditions on the ground there.”
Beckstead says it would be one thing to put this issue on the ballot again for voters to take up, but, he argues, “it’s arrogant for legislators to think that they know better than the people of Oregon how wildlife should be managed.”