SALEM - A Senate panel Thursday moved a controversial bill to the floor that relaxes a ban on using dogs to hunt cougars and bears for wildlife management activities.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee stopped short of recommending senators pass the bill - a stance a state official said is significant.

"It indicates to us how diverse opinions are out there on cougars and cougar management and how these legislators are reacting to their constituents," said Ron Anglin, wildlife division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The committee took the unusual approach of moving the bill without recommendation to let senators decide for themselves whether to support it, said Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland.

Bates was joined by Sen. Brad Avakian, D-Portland, in voting against moving the bill with a do-pass recommendation. Sens. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla, and Jason Atkinson, R-Grants Pass, voted to move the bill with a do-pass recommendation.

The committee did approve amendments to House Bill 2971 - adding a six-year sunset to the bill and requiring ODFW to show lawmakers in two years it is hiring responsible agents.

Under HB 2971, ODFW is allowed to appoint agents that are allowed to use dogs to hunt cougars and bears for wildlife management purposes.

The bill passed the House despite widespread criticism among animal rights activists who say the bill flies in the face of the 1994 voter approved Measure 18, which banned use of dogs for hunting cougars.

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