Oh just how far we haven’t come.
The corridors of Oregon’s capital building are filled with history.
Tom McCall’s portrait is a Technicolor reminder of the beach bill — the landmark law which made our beaches open to all. There’s an exhibit of amazing rocks and minerals found in Oregon. The offices of elected officials are themselves display cases of Oregon treasures past and present.
In a corridor leading to Senate offices are a number of educational displays highlighting the history of the Beaver State. The last in line is a real attention grabber.
The display features the preserved head and skin of a cougar. The text behind the cougar tells the creation story of Oregon’s government. The most prominent words are the title “Wolf Meetings, Genesis of Government” and a quote:
“It is admitted by all, that bears, wolves, panthers, etc., are destructive to useful animals owned by the settlers of this colony…Minister of the Public Meeting, March 1843, French Prairie.
The text goes on to describe how — in a surprisingly narrow decision — 52 white men voted to form a government, organize a militia, and set the course for what would become the state of Oregon.
It’s a course that has led Oregon to become known around the world as one of America’s greenest, most progressive states. Sadly, my next stop was a disturbing reminder of how — at least when it comes to wildlife — some things haven’t changed.
I walked past the “Wolf Meeting” display, re-read the quote, and rounded the corner into a packed hearing room. At the head of the room was the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Last year, under different leadership, the Committee’s work earned Oregon’s capital national media attention as “the place where wildlife go to die.”
A year later, the day’s agenda included hearings on bills to:
- Kill endangered wolves suspected of previously harassing livestock.
- Circumvent a ballot initiative and reinstate the use of hounds to chase, tree, and kill cougars.
- Allow people to kill bears that have been drawn in by bait.
- Kill a federally protected native bird for eating fish coveted by anglers.
- Enshrine recreational hunting, trapping, and fishing as rights in the state Constitution alongside free speech and due process.
- Marginalize and exclude the voice of all but the most avid hunters and anglers from having a voice in wildlife management.
I’m no longer an active hunter and my fishing rod only rarely makes the trip from the shed to the car. I’ve got no problem with those who hunt and fish ethically. But somehow the idea of shooting a scared cat in a tree or a bear with his nose deep in a bag of donuts just doesn’t seem all that sporting.
Allowing citizens to kill an endangered species because it may have once spooked a cow would be laughable if it hadn’t passed out of Committee by a 6-1 vote. Marginalizing the voice of the majority of Oregonians who don’t hunt, fish, or put out traps for fun — well, that just seems downright un-American.
Notably, Oregon Wild has taken no stand on the constitutional amendment; however several fishing organizations opposed it in part because it would preclude the public from voting on future conservation initiatives that effect huntable wildlife.
The initiative also begs the question, why not protect the right to go bowling, golfing, surfing, or skeet shooting? Why elevate the rights of hunters and anglers above everyone else? Why not protect the rights of the vast majority of Oregonians who prefer to shoot wildlife with a camera than a rifle?
Like the rest of the country, Oregon is facing serious challenges. Not being able to kill enough wildlife isn’t one of them.
Many of Oregon’s rural areas are struggling mightily. Apparently that’s not the case in Umatilla County where rather than fund education, public safety, or infrastructure, the County Commissioners just approved spending $10,000 of taxpayer money to kill wildlife from helicopters and airplanes. The Palinesque program primarily targets coyotes and ignores the fact that killing coyotes is about the surest way to increase their numbers.
“It is admitted by all, that bears, wolves, panthers, etc., are destructive to useful animals owned by the settlers of this colony…”
That quote from the capital display once seemed antiquated and almost folksy. That was until I realized that for a small minority, not much has changed since 1843. Worse yet, some of our elected leaders seem intent to be willing partners.
Oregon Wild has created a petition to support wolf conservation in Oregon. Click here to sign the wolf petition.