Oregon searches for best way to deal with cougar problems

Every year, new bills and opposition arise over hunting cougars in Oregon. This session, three bills look to allow Oregon counties the choice to use dogs when hunting cougars. These bills would override Measure 18, which has banned the use of dogs to hunt cougars and bears since 1994. SB 458, a fourth bill, calls for controlled tags to hunt “problem” cougars – ones that may be a danger to humans, livestock or pets.

When the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to euthanize nuisance cougars, authorities use dogs to track and corner them in order for an officer to have a clear shot. This was how they handled the case in La Pine, Oregon in late January when five cougars had to be put down in one week. State Sen. Chuck Thomsen, the sponsor of SB 458, sees the opportunity for people to apply for a permit to hunt these “problem” cougars themselves. In this way, the ODFW could make money during tough situations like the La Pine cougar encounters that are becoming more frequent.

With an estimated 6,200 wild cougars in Oregon, the hunting season remains open year-round, unless harvests reach the quota set by ODFW. Although the hunting quota is 970, only 543 were killed in 2016. Some residents believe that the use of dogs will make hunting the solitary, nocturnal species easier and help achieve more than only 55 percent of the quota.

Those against the bills, such as the Humane Society of the United States, continue to fight these bills year after year, saying that hunting with dogs is inhumane.

Whether the bills receive hearings or not, the new Cougar Management Plan is scheduled for a briefing in August and a session in October.