Legislative Update – Wolves, Cougars and Forests edition – February 2012

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

The Oregon Legislature is meeting for just one month this year, and is expected to be wrapped up with its work by early March. With significant budget challenges and very little time, it is disappointing to see that a number of legislators have chosen to focus their attention on controversial proposals that weaken protections for Oregon’s environment.

The legislature has taken up bills to reduce protections for endangered wolves and elusive mountain lions, mandate high logging levels on state forests, and calling for increased clearcutting on federal lands.

Here’s a sampling of some of the worst bills the Oregon Legislature is spending its short February session debating. As of March 1, the Sierra Club had succeeded in blocking three of the four following bills, with only the non-binding SJM 201 passing.

HB 4158 – Killing Endangered Wolves to Protect Livestock

HB 4158 was introduced at the request of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and is specifically intended to overturn an environmental lawsuit over the state’s current approach of killing wolves believed to be involved in attacks on livestock. In the fall of 2011, a judge blocked a state kill order targeting two wolves in NE Oregon’s Imnaha pack, including the pack’s ‘alpha’ male, which would result in functional elimination of the first wolf pack to begin breeding in Oregon in more than six decades. One of the Imnaha pack’s offspring (OR-7, also known as ‘Journey’) has captured international attention in its 1000 mile dispersal into western Oregon and northern California. While Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan allows the state to kill wolves involved in ‘chronic’ livestock depredation, many have argued that the state and ranchers are not taking significant enough non-lethal measures to prevent wolf/livestock conflicts before resorting to lethal control of Oregon’s endangered wolf population. There are currently fewer than 30 wolves in Oregon. 

HB 4098 – Maximizing State Forest Clearcutting

HB 4098 would drastically change management on more than 500,000 acres of the Tillamook, Clatsop and Santiam State Forests to make timber production the dominant use. This would have significant negative impacts to water quality, recreation, and salmon recovery and mark a significant rollback of current state forest management plans which require a more balanced approach between logging and other uses of state lands. The bill specifically mandates that annual logging levels on state forest lands be ’95 percent of the annual amount of harvestable timber expected to be grown on state forest lands.’ It would run directly counter to an initiative announced by Governor Kitzhaber in November 2011 to create long-term protected areas on state lands designed to prevent logging on high conservation value lands in state forests. This bill, in contrast, would essentially maximize logging and roadbuilding on publicly owned state forest lands at the expense of fish, wildlife, recreation, clean water and carbon sequestration beginning in January, 2013.

HB 4119 – Hound Hunting of Cougars

HB 4119 creates a ‘pilot program’ to allow hunters using one or more dogs to pursue cougars in order ‘to reduce cougar conflicts and to assess cougar populations.’ This unsportsmanlike practice has been banned in Oregon since 1994, and nearly every legislative session since proponents of hound hunting have tried to weaken the ban. This bill allows counties to request inclusion in the pilot project, which could effectively bring back hound hunting across much of the state. This bill, and the others before it, are based on the false assumption that Oregon has a cougar over-population problem and that bringing back hound hunting is the only tool to protect the public. However, there are currently more cougars killed each year now by hunters than there were before the hound hunting ban was instituted in 1994, and the state has numerous tools at its disposal to target the occasional problem cougar that wanders to close to human communities, including the use of dogs by state agents. This bill is an effort to make hound hunting a recreational practice aimed at reducing overall cougar numbers, rather than a judiciously used management tool at the disposal of state agents to address specific problem animals.

SJM 201 – Local Control Over BLM Forests to Increase Logging

Senate Joint Memorial 201 calls on the US Congress and President to hand over roughly 2.2 million acres of western Oregon Bureau of Land Management forestland to western Oregon counties so that they can exercise management authority. While little more than a letter to the President and Congress, SJM 201 contains a number of far-fetched claims, including that strategies to protect forests on BLM lands have led to increased greenhouse gas emissions from these forests (the opposite is true) and that that local control of these lands by counties and private interests will lead to balanced management of these lands to benefit the public interest. Local control would in fact likely be an environmental disaster, with a return to large-scale clearcutting that has put many runs of coastal salmon on the list of threatened and endangered species. Western Oregon BLM lands contain roughly 1 million acres of old growth forest unlikely to be protected should these lands fall into control of Oregon counties and timber companies, whose goal would be to manage them for revenue production.

5 Responses to Legislative Update – Wolves, Cougars and Forests edition – February 2012

  1. Karl Smiley says:

    It is NOT false that there is a cougar over population problem. What IS false is that there is an “occasional problem cougar”. My llama protected my lambs from coyotes, but she was no match for the cougar who would come into my barn with the lights on and radio blaring to carry off one ewe after another on an irregular basis until He (or she) wiped me out. The trapper was too busy with cougars closer to town to help me. When he did come out to look around he told me that he had trapped 12 cougars in the last 2 weeks, 3 of them inside of Corvallis, 2 of those under somebody’s porch. It is not strange that there are more cougars killed now than in 1994. There are so many more cougars. I would guess that there are more in western Oregon now than there have been since the 1800s. it is also not strange that they are no longer as shy and elusive as they once were. I agree that taking out those that become problems could be a solution, but then we need to allocate more money for more state trappers and hunters.

  2. Debra says:

    It is true that we have a human over-population problem and WE are forcing cougars, wolves and other native creatures to be forced to “encroach” into “human territory” in order to survive. It is incumbent on US to use our wits and resources to find ways to coexist with Earth’s other, equally worthy of living, creatures.

  3. Karl Smiley says:

    Debra,
    In general, i believe what you say is true, but in the coast range, where I have lived and raised sheep for the last 40 years, the population of people was MUCH higher a hundred years ago than it is now. There were homesteads, schools, small mills. post offices and little towns all over the place that are now gone. Cougars have made an amazing comeback. They are capable of doubling their population every year. They are cats, and like all kitties I have known they often specialize.
    I agree that we need to learn to live with all our brother and sister creatures. I loved my sheep and will miss watching the lamb pack play “follow the leader” and “king of the hill”. It hurt to find ewes,half eaten, who I knew by name and whose moms and grand moms and great grand moms I knew too. I certainly would not mind taking out the cat that specialized in eating them, though i don’t really blame it or think that it is evil. I was also relieved that my children are no longer small when I found it’s 5 inch foot prints within 20 feet of my back porch.

  4. Rose Waring says:

    grew up on a sheep ranch in Colorado, we never lost sheep to predators. There were plenty of coyotes around the place – but we had dogs. Not just any dogs – trained sheep dogs that lived with the sheep. Not just one dog – but five or six. They really worked and cared for their flock. How did a cat get into a locked barn? A dog would have at least alerted someone to a predators presence. Sorry for your loss, but there are other solutions besides killing something.

  5. Sally says:

    I just saw a televison show regarding animal rescues, so I had to make a comment regarding this. On the show they had rescued several hounds from Florida (which allows) hunting with dogs who became lost during the hunt. Cougars would not be the only ones to suffer if we allow this incredible injustice to happen. We need to look at the big picture and come up with solutions that would not involve loss of life on any part. Many of the hounds in Florida are either picked up as strays or found wondering the steets, taken to shelters where they have a slim to none chance of making it out without the interventions of a rescue group. We can’t allow this to happen in Oregon.

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