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SALEM, Ore. - With cougar encounters on the rise in Oregon and elsewhere in the West, the House on Friday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would make it easier for people to kill cougars that are considered a threat.

If approved by the governor, Oregon would join Washington state in loosening restrictions on killing problem cougars.

Last year, Washington state's Legislature reversed a total ban on using dogs to hunt cougars, which is considered the only way to track down the elusive animals.

State laws vary wildly when it comes to cougars. California has an all-out ban on hunting the cats and considers the mountain lion a protected animal. Texas allows cougars to be killed year-round with no limits.

The Oregon bill, HB2967, was passed by a 46-1 vote.

Supporters say it would allow families to protect themselves from bold and dangerous cats that wander onto their property.

They say the felines have become a nuisance since voters' approval in 1994 of Measure 18, which banned the sport hunting of cougars with hounds and led to a boom in the cougar population.

"It allows self-defense for humans threatened with attack," said Rep. Betsy Close, R-Albany.

But opponents of the bill said it would create an open season on cougars by providing a convenient excuse for killing them. They say existing law adequately deals with the problem because licensed hunters are allowed to track problem cougars with dogs and take them.

The Senate sent the bill back to the House after adding amendments that defined a threat to be aggressive action, attempting to break into a residence, attacking a pet or livestock and a loss of wariness of humans.

Cougars that frequently appear in broad daylight near human structures also would be considered a threat.

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