A state legislative committee will form a review group to look into the policies and procedures surrounding the killing of a bobcat at a Eugene school last month.
The House Interim Committee on Natural Resource listened to testimony from law enforcement, concerned citizens, animal rights groups and legislators Wednesday at the state capitol in Salem before creating the group.
The investigative hearing was convened after strong public criticism over how Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police handled the killing of a juvenile bobcat that wandered into Oak Hill School in Eugene on Oct. 15. The bobcat was captured and then was bludgeoned to death on the side of the road by an Oregon State Police trooper. Sixty-one veterinarians signed a petition calling on Gov. Kate Brown to fully investigate the killing of the animal and to determine if procedures and policies were followed.
The hearing began Wednesday with committee chairman Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) acknowledging everyone involved made hard decisions, “and sometimes it is exceedingly difficult to have those decisions second-guessed.” But by the same token, the public had expressed a grave amount of concern about this particular incident, which is why the situation was being reviewed. He called the hearing a “fact-finding mission.”
“This is a learning moment for all of us to look at our policies and what we can do to make it better in the future,” Gorsek said.
Oregon State Police Capt. Casey Thomas with the Fish and Wildlife Division testified that the bobcat was struck just once with the object and didn’t suffer. A firearm wasn’t used, he said, because the trooper could have missed his shot or jeopardized the catch pole, which could have caused the animal agony or put the trooper at risk. Thomas also said there was no internal investigation into the incident.
Additionally, Colin Gillin, the ODFW’s state wildlife veterinarian, said ODFW is not doing an internal investigation, but the incident will be brought up during their next annual training.
Committee vice-chair Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale), a former police officer, said he was concerned about the lack of internal investigation.
“When I was a police officer, we were evaluated all the time, especially if there was a complaint. And people investigated us, usually internal investigations folks,” he said. “So it’s a little odd I think that there is no ongoing serious investigation. It sounds like you’ve concluded that it was just fine and nobody is going to talk any further about this.”
Haley Stewart-Reynolds, the wildlife protection manager for the Humane Society of the United States, was one of eight citizens who testified, noting that she appreciates the need to prioritize public safety in dealing with wildlife but that OSP and ODFW can protect the public while also utilizing nonlethal options.
“This bobcat posed a clear opportunity for nonlethal action,” she said. “The (Humane Society of the United States) strongly opposes the use of blunt force trauma as a method to kill wildlife. The bludgeoning of an animal is not reflective of Oregon’s values.”
Ingrid Kessler, representing the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, also argued during the hearing the way the animal was killed is not a form of humane euthanasia.
Thomas said the animal was killed for the safety of officers, although ODFW’s veterinarian Gillin said a bobcat kitten is not likely to cause death or serious injury.
“If that is the case,” Stewart-Reynolds said, “we believe that the training provided to officers is inadequate.”
“Unfortunately, in many instances, Oregon’s wildlife are killed simply for being present in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she later added. “Just this summer ODFW killed an orphaned bear cub and in February an adult male cougar just because residents saw them. Simply entering a human community is not a cause for concern, though many of these animals are killed unnecessarily after little to no effort is made by responding to officials to use nonlethal approaches.”
The hearing also included testimony from Rep. Marty Wilde (D-Central Lane and Linn counties), Rep. David Gomberg (D-Central Coast), Brooks Fahy, the director of Predator Defense, and Bob Sallinger, the director of conservation for the Audubon Society.
Committee chairman Witt and vice chair Gorsek, the only two committee members left in attendance at the end of Wednesday’s hearing, decided to form and assign themselves to the review group to see if improvements in the process can be made. Witt said he would welcome interested representative from organizations and law enforcement to participate in the group.
“This hearing was investigative in nature,” Witt said in his closing remarks. “I am completely convinced the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police acted out of concern for the public’s safety and health. It was paramount in their decision-making. By the same token, procedures that (were) referenced earlier are often times guided by public expectations which in turn the legislature makes aware to our various state agencies. Seldom have I seen this many people wade through three hours of testimony and remain here.
“I think it’s highly suggestive that the public is looking for a different, perhaps better way. I am struck by (Haley Stewart-Reynolds’) words that this kitten was killed for being present in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s hard.”
To watch the full hearing, visit http://bit.ly/3336yT6