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

A proposal to ban coyote-hunting contests in Oregon didn’t make it across the finish line during this year’s legislative session but proponents plan to resurrect the bill.

Though Senate Bill 723 was approved by the Senate 17-12 despite vociferous opposition from rural lawmakers, it died in the House without a floor vote when the Legislature adjourned.

Proponents think the bill would have passed the House with bipartisan support if it had been referred out of the House Rules Committee, said Jill Fritz, director of wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States.

“We will continue in our efforts,” Fritz said. “We will not be deterred from our goal of banning these coyote-killing contests in Oregon.”

Proponents of SB 723 are reviewing their strategy to decide whether to reintroduce the bill in the short legislative session next year or the full session in 2021, she said.

The bill received the support of Michael Finley, chairman of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, who called such contests “socially repugnant to most Oregonians” and “counterproductive” because coyotes respond by increasing reproduction rates.

Supporters are also heartened by similar prohibitions in Vermont and New Mexico, as well as pending proposals in Arizona and Massachusetts, said Fitz. “I think there’s a tremendous momentum.”

Fitz said the controversy over the bill didn’t exemplify an urban-rural divide in Oregon because polling found broad support for such a prohibition across the state.

Regardless of how such contests are organized, they incentivize the mass killing of a native species and may undermine public support for hunting, she said.

“Whether or not there is camaraderie, the cruelty is the same,” Fitz said.

Advocates and critics of SB 723 agree it’s unclear why the proposal failed to receive a vote in the House Rules Committee after receiving a hearing in mid-June.

It’s likely lawmakers made a conscious decision not to advance the bill rather than it simply falling through the cracks late in the legislative session, said Paul Donheffner, legislative chairman of the Oregon Hunters Association. “We were on pins and needles until the final gavel fell,” he said.

Most coyote-hunting contests in Oregon are “very low key,” with members of local hunting organizations trading hides for tickets over time for a year-end prize raffle, Donheffner said.

“For our members, it’s just part of our camaraderie,” he said.

Critics of the bill also argued that coyote-hunting contests are a useful tool for livestock producers who’d otherwise have to pay trappers or post a bounty on the predators.

The bill was more about restricting personal freedom and behavior than coyote management, since it would still have allowed the predators to be hunted throughout the year, Donheffner said.

Coyotes simply became the “new poster child” for hunting restrictions on “cute and furry” animals among people who aren’t familiar with the pain and damage they cause to domestic animals, he said.

“Who knows what the next critter is that will be put in the spotlight?” Donheffner said.

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

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