A coyote attacks a lamb. The Oregon Senate passed a prohibition against coyote-hunting contests but the bill faltered in the House.

A ban on coyote-killing contests has passed the Oregon Senate 17-12 over the objections of critics who say the bill runs roughshod over rural livestock producers.

Proponents of Senate Bill 723 claim that such “derbies” are an affront to responsible hunting and are often counter-productive in reducing predation of cattle and sheep.

“Population control, if desired, should be careful and selective, which killing contests are not,” said Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland.

Opponents of the bill argued that such contests are a cost-effective tool to decrease coyote numbers without offering bounties or hiring trappers.

“The farmers and ranchers can’t afford to pay any more, so they’re trying to organize some way to save money,” said Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas.

During a June 5 floor debate, critics cast SB 723 as an attempt by urbanites to hold sway over coyote management in rural areas with which they’re largely unfamiliar.

Rural lawmakers don’t propose similar measures to restrict how mouse and rat populations are handled in urban centers, said Rep. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg.

“The coyote population is a pest problem for us,” he said.

The bill is an example of the urban community believing that rural residents are unfit to make decisions for themselves, he said.

“If you respect another group’s culture, you don’t take action like this,” Heard said.

Supporters of the bill countered that SB 723 doesn’t curtail the ability to hunt coyotes or for livestock producers to protect their herds.

Coyotes serve a useful ecological role by limiting populations of gophers and other rodents, according to the bill’s supporters.

Hunting derbies are ineffective because coyotes respond to sudden population declines by increasing their reproduction, supporters said.

Such contests also eliminate coyotes indiscriminately and disrupt their social structure, raising the likelihood that surviving individuals will resort to targeting livestock, supporters said.

“This is a specific issue, not a culture war,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland. “This is talking about a derby, not hunting.”

Coyote problems are cyclical and upswings in their populations are associated with increased predation on cattle and sheep, said Sen. Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass.

“It’s nothing more than a feel-good bill for my urban colleagues,” he said. “They have no idea what it’s like to try to make a living from the land.”

Opponents of the bill also said it’s unfortunate that proposed amendments that would direct Oregon wildlife regulators to study the issue didn’t gain traction.

“We have a pure collision between urban and rural and understanding each other,” said Boquist. “Instead of talking face-to-face and figuring it out, we’re actually talking by each other.”

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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