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Commissioners look at latest step in dispute with owners of nonprofit animal rescue center over presence of lions and tigers on high-value farmland outside Hillsboro.

Washington County commissioners will consider a ban on exotic animals that is an outgrowth of a dispute with two people that the county has issued a notice of civil violation for keeping lions and tigers on high-value farmland outside Hillsboro.

An ordinance proposing the ban will get a public hearing in November, although a date has not been announced.

The commissioners were informed by the county counsel that such a ban has been prepared in the form of an ordinance — it followed a board work session on Sept. 26 —? and the counsel's notification was part of the consent agenda for the board's business meeting Oct. 10. Consent agenda items are usually not discussed.

Wendy Gordon, a county spokeswoman, said: "The current situation at Walk on the Wild Side made it clear that we needed an ordinance around exotic animals in our county. The ordinance, if passed, will become part of the Animal Services code under the Department of Health and Human Services."

Under a state law, a city or county is empowered to ban "exotic animals" — the definition excludes domestic cats and dogs — even if landowners have the required permits from state and federal wildlife agencies.

The proposed ban excludes livestock, but it covers lions and tigers, among other animals.

"I feel confident that if there is some type of ban put on exotic animals in Washington County, Walk on the Wild Side will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to educate and conserve future generations of these animals they're looking to protect," said Darin Campbell, a spokesman for the nonprofit animal rescue center.

The dispute involves Walk on the Wild Side, which was fined Aug. 18 for feeding, breeding and managing exotic animals without a permit on high-value farmland south of U.S. 26 between Jackson School Road and Glencoe Road.

Walk on the Wild Side run by Cheryl Jones and Steve Higgs, had operated on 20 acres near Canby. But it shut down in 2015 after 25 years of zoning disputes with Clackamas County, and it relocated earlier this year to an 80-acre site on NW Victory Lane Road about three miles north of the Hillsboro Airport. Part of the site contains McKay Creek Stables.

Under Washington County zoning rules, the land must be used to raise crops or livestock for profit. County officials had already warned back in 2015 that the site could not be used for other purposes.

County officials have sent a number of communications. A lawyer for the nonprofit owners has asserted they did not receive them, although certified mail was used for the Aug. 18 notice of civil violations that could include fines ranging from $750 to $5,000.

Spokesman Campbell said in a statement: "A Walk on the Wild Side has done nothing in any way to deserve the attention they're getting from regulators from Washington County. Also we hope that in the future we are able to educate members of the Washington County Commission and their staff so that this type of attention that regulatory staff is giving a Walk on the Wild Side does not continue."

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EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this story incorrectly characterized county action toward two property owners. The county issued notices of civil violations to the people involved, which could result in fines after possible hearings before a county hearings officer.

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