11/9/2006, 11:48 a.m. PT
The Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon wildlife officials have authority to prohibit hunting exotic animals on enclosed ranches in what are called “canned hunts,” the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court said the Legislature has given fish and game officers the power to regulate the hunting of such animals as fallow deer from the Mideast, Axis deer from Europe and Sika deer from Japan, raised on large, fenced game ranches.
“… not all animals need to be ‘wild’ to qualify as ‘wildlife’ under the statutory definition,” the court said.
The court decided a case involving Clark Couch.
Investigators said hunters paid $500 to $1,000 to shoot captive animals at his 2,200-acre Clover Creek Ranch northeast of Madras.
State game officers accused him of violating a rule passed in 1999 by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission banning canned hunting of exotic, or non-native, species.
The commission said it was concerned about the spread of disease to native species.
Canned hunting of native big-game species was already illegal.
The commission was backed by the Humane Society of the United States, which said the practice of hunting captive animals violates the spirit of “fair chase” among hunters.
Couch argued that the state commission’s authority extended only to wild animals considered the property of the state, not to privately owned animals such as his.
The decision means the case against Couch will go back to a trial court to deal with the charges brought by the state game officers, said Stephanie Soden, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.