Friday, April 14, 2006

Cougars and the Law

Non-corp dev related, but I noticed this morning that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is moving forward with an expanded plan to control the state's cougar population. Whereas to date the department has responded only to specific cougar sightings, they now plan to hunt cougars more generally in an effort to control the expanding population. To greatly increase the efficiency of this effort, they plan to use dogs.

Cougar sightings are on the increase out here in the West, and cougar populations have expanded at a time of rapid human population growth in western states. My hometown of Bend, Oregon - set in cougar territory just east of the Cascade mountains - has been one of the fastest-growing communities in the country for the last 20 years. There's little question that this combination leads to an increase in human/cougar interactions, as well as losses of livestock and domestic pets.

My first reaction to the news that state-funded hunters would be culling the cougar population was: Why not expand the cougar season and let private hunters do it? That's a cornerstone of wildlife management, as seasons, hunting rules, fees and limits are constantly adjusted to account for population fluctuations. As it turns out, the department has already done that, expanding the season to 10 months and reducing the tag fees to nominal levels. The problem? Private hunters in Oregon can't use dogs to hunt cougars, thanks to a state initiative passed some years back.

The result of the initiative's passing was a steep climb in the cougar population as hunting success plummeted due to the lack of ability to use dogs. The state tried to offset this growth by expanding the cougar season and reducing tag prices, but now finds itself turning to dogs to keep the population in check. So, the net outcome of the voters' action wasn't to permanently end the hunting of cougars with dogs; it was simply to shift the cost of hunting cougars with dogs from private hunters to the state and its taxpayers. You've got to love the initiative process.

No comments: