Dogs could chase big cats again

  A bill that would let hunters use dogs to chase down cougars is circulating in the Oregon state Legislature, pitting animal rights activists against hunters.

In 1994, Oregon voters passed a ballot measure banning the use of hounds in cougar hunts. Dozens of subsequent efforts to weaken or repeal the measure have all failed.

"I don’t know if we should so quickly ignore the will of the voters," says state Sen. Charlie Ringo, D, who chairs the Environment and Land Use Committee.

The proposed bill would create a pilot program almost identical to legislation that passed in Washington state last year, allowing dog use in certain counties. If the bill passes, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will assess the program in 2008 and decide if hound hunting should continue.

Jerod Broadfoot, a lobbyist for Safari Club International, a hunting organization that helped draft the bill, says he believes cougars are partially responsible for declining elk populations in parts of the state. Hound hunting would also reduce livestock and human confrontations with the cats, which are on the rise, he says.

"Oregon is rife with cougar hysteria," responds Sally Mackler, with the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club. She notes that there have never been any cougar attacks on humans in Oregon, and says there is no evidence that the cats are driving down elk populations. She adds that ranchers are already allowed to use dogs if a cougar threatens livestock on their property.

Last year, hunters in Oregon claimed 251 cougars, more than any other year on record, including years when dogs were used.