A bill seeking to reintroduce some sport-hunting of cougars with hounds has died a quiet death in the Oregon Senate after getting an easy nod in the House, ending the latest effort to return a practice banned by voters 17 years ago.
The deadline for scheduling hearings came and went Monday without House Bill 2337 receiving a scheduled debate in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, effectively killing a bill without discussing it.
"Ding-dong, the witch is dead," said Sally Mackler, carnivore representative in Oregon for the Eugene-based group Predator Defense, which lobbied against the bill.
The bill was sent there by the House on April 20 when it passed by a 45-14 vote. It was the furthest that hound-hunting advocates have pushed a bill in the Oregon Legislature since voters twice shot down the practice for bears and cougars in the mid-1990s.
The committee's chairwoman, Democrat Jackie Dingfelder of Portland, did not return multiple telephone calls over the past three weeks to discuss her intentions for the bill.
"What bothers us is that you have a Portland Democrat holding it up in committee after it passed the House overwhelmingly and bipartisanly," said Duane Dungannon, secretary of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, which lobbied heavily for the bill.
"It's not a partisan issue," Dungannon said. "It's an urban-versus-rural issue."
Modeled after a similar program in Washington state that has since ended, the bill sought to create a pilot program through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for public hound-hunting, but only within counties whose governing bodies request it.
Using tracking hounds was the most popular method of hunting cougars before the practice was banned by the passage of Measure 18 in 1994. ODFW statistics show that most cougars now shot by hunters are targets of opportunity — killed while the hunters were pursuing other species, primarily deer or elk.
The House bill was positioned by its supporters as a way to reduce cougar-human conflicts and livestock predation in areas where other existing tools have failed to manage cougars effectively. It was also written to sunset in 2020.
Mackler said she and several senators lobbied heavily against the bill receiving a hearing, in part because the bill would not target damage-causing cougars or those posing human-safety problems.
"This bill would not accomplish what it said it will," Mackler said. "This was strictly for trophy and sport-hunting, and the use of hounds would not impact damage issues or safety issues at all.
"You can't run through a housing development with a pack of dogs and guns," she said.
Bills seeking to reinstitute some form of hound-hunting have appeared in every session, and only HB 2337 made it through a single legislative chamber.
Mark Freeman is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.