Hunting bills miss the mark

As it has every session for nearly two decades, the Oregon Legislature is again taking a look at the 1994 voter-approved ban on the use of dogs to hunt bears and cougars, and the use of bait to harvest bears.

House Bill 2624 would allow a county to opt out of the bans — which don't apply to the elimination of problem animals — if voters in that county wanted to; the vote could be either on an initiative petition or on a measure referred to voters by the county's governing body.

The bill, as well as House Joint Resolution 0016, which would give voters a chance to make the right to hunt part of the Oregon Constitution, is due for a floor vote this week.

Well-intentioned though each proposal might be, lawmakers would do well to turn down both.

There are two primary problems with HB 2624.

One is that it seeks to chip away at the will of the Oregon voters who — for good or ill depending on your point of view — decided that as a rule they did not want bears and cougars in our state hunted with dogs, and did not want bears baited.

The other is that from a legal standpoint, the state is responsible for setting policy regarding population management, hunting and fishing rules, etc. That's the job of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and the agency it oversees, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Thus, it would seem a poor idea to allow counties to take their own paths on wildlife management issues, including population control, since those paths may run counter to the objectives analyzed and decided upon at the state level.

As for HJR 0016, as far as we know there's never been any question of Oregonians' right to hunt; numerous laws, rules and regulations spell out precisely how it's to be done.

As with pretty much all other states — every place in the Union was wild once, though some aren't so much that way anymore — Oregon has a long and rich heritage of hunting that hasn't been challenged in any meaningful way.

Thus the freedom to hunt, sacred though it is when it comes to providing food or protecting loved ones and livelihood, really does not need to be a part of the state's constitution.

Like the rights to fish, hike, bicycle, farm and engage in many other pursuits that define life in Oregon, the right to hunt is inherent and self-evident. Its place in the constitution would be superfluous.

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