Cougar in tree

(Puma concolor)

Photo: Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

The National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club are the strangest bedfellows we can imagine. Downright kinky, really. But here they were, along with some research scientists from neighboring Washington, all opposing the State of Oregon’s new law on cougar hunting.

It didn’t matter. On June 27 Oregon signed into law a new program that will pay agents with dogs to track and kill Puma concolor.

The state’s department of fish and wildlife (ODFW) has been watching inclines in cougar populations. By the wildlife managers’ account, the number of big cats has increased from near extinction in the 1960s to an estimated 5100 today. Cougars now pose, they say, a real threat to pets, livestock, and even people in the state.

With strong backing from the ODFW, Oregon lawmakers brought back the practice of hunting cougars with hounds, the most effective way to track down the elusive American lion. Oregon voters prohibited the use of dogs to hunt cougar or bear in 1994, and two years later, when that proposition was up for repeal, they again voted no.

The lawmakers, including Governor Ted Kulongoski, say the measure is in keeping with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife report’s on cougar management. (Read the full report here.)

The Oregon Hunters Association backed the new measure, but we imagine far more influential was the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. This group contended that extending the cougar season but disallowing dogs on the hunt had not worked to control the numbers of mountain lions. The Cattlemen’s group has advocated “a complete repeal of the 1994 initiative petition ban on hound hunting. ODFW should accept a leadership role in promoting a rollback of this ban. We would appreciate seeing the wildlife management agency in this state lead a charge for legislative overrule of the current hound hunting restrictions.”

zone of cougars in Oregon
Cougar populations in Oregon, concentrated in the SW and NE
Map: ODFW Cougar Management Plan

And that appears to be just what’s happened. According to the new law, “If the number of cougars drops to 3000 or less,” a mountain lion population that ODFW calls “socially acceptable,” then “the hunts will stop.”

Idaho cougar hunter

Are we having fun yet? — in Idaho
Photo: Locha River Outfitter

While the NRA and Sierra Club have both opposed hound-hunting for cougar, they came to that viewpoint traveling wildly different routes of reasoning. The Sierra Club charges the Fish and Wildlife department with “flawed statistical modeling” and refers to cougar hunting as “slaughter.”

Over at the NRA, riflepersons were fired up that the state is countermanding the voters and -““ especially this — that it will be “using license and tag fees to hire federal agents using dogs to kill Oregon’s big game.” NRA member Rod Harder told the Salem Journal last year that spending nearly $600,000 of collections from hunting tags and fees for this purpose was a waste of money, when “We have lots and lots of people here who would do it for free.”

Is it just a coincidence that Oregon’s wildlife director Virgil Moore has announced he’s leaving, effective July 12? (Whenever people say they’re doing something for “personal reasons” we think, well yah. We didn’t take you for the Manchurian Candidate. Don’t you mean, “Mind your own beeswax” or just “No comment”?)

For a stronger flavor of just how divisive this issue is in Oregon, check out the snarling discussion on Brian and Laurel Hines’ great blog, HinesSight.

And for a more vivid sense of Puma concolor listen to these amazing audios from the Macauley Library at Cornell. This one from the Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, sounds like a big puddy-tat. But this one, collected in Alberta, Canada, by William W. Gunn (his real name) may have you siding with the cattlemen.

And finally here’s a cougar hunt with dogs ““ but we don’t know where. (Rated X for excruciating)

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