Counties should vote on cougars

By Observer editorial April 10, 2013 09:58 am

Oregon is divided by more than just wet side and dry side, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor.

The state also has a clear urban-rural divide. Very few places does that show up clearer than in wildlife policy implemented by statewide vote.

Urban voters in this state of nearly 4 million people invariably win. There is simply way more urban people than rural people, and ever-growing numbers of urbanites hold the power. 

For one thing, this led to the prohibition of the use of dogs to hunt cougars and black bears almost two decades ago. In the meantime, cougar numbers have increased with deer and elk populations, a staple food for cougars. On average, an adult cougar — there are nearly 6,000 cougars in Oregon — consumes one adult elk or deer weekly.

Now, however, a movement is afoot in the Oregon Legislature for more rural control of wildlife at their doorsteps. Consider HB 2624. It would allow voters in each county to decide cougar and bear hunting policy. Hence, cougar policy in Multnomah County, which essentially is Portland, and cougar policy in Union County would be no longer be the same. Since bear and cougar problems vary from county to county, this would be fairer than a statewide vote.

The bill, now before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, would exempt counties from the statewide prohibition on using dogs to hunt cougars and black bears, if county voters approve. It also would allow the use of bait to hunt bears, which voters banned in 1994.

Counties would also be given more power if House Bill 3395 is approved, requiring the Department of Fish and Wildlife to design a pilot program, allowing hunters to use dogs to track and tree cougars.

Nothing against citizen initiatives, mind you. The initiatives allow everyday citizens to put new legislation on the popular ballot, instead of always being dictated to by state governments. The initiatives work fine when there is a balance of power between rural and urban areas. They do not work find when that balance of power shifts as more and more live in urban areas and take on urban values.

The ban on hunting bear and cougars with dogs and bait passed as a citizen initiative in 1994, spearheaded by Multnomah and other urban counties. Most rural counties voted against the ban.

It’s time to give rural voters more power over the resources in their backyards.