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OHA Comments on Big Game Regulations

By Jim Akenson, OHA Sr. Conservation Director

ODFW staff proposed major changes in big game hunting regulations for consideration by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its Sept. 13 meeting, for which OHA State Board and staff drafted comments to present before the Commission.

Many of these changes will make the big game synopsis easier to read – an aim OHA appreciates. However, OHA has expressed concern for the rapid timing and extent of these regulation changes, and their potential impacts.

OHA was kept well apprised of the proposed changes over the past months, but, with all our opportunities for input and discussion, we felt that ODFW staff was not interested in modifying their proposals in response to our input. Consequently, we directed our concerns to the Commission, as we did successfully in regard to a proposal to eliminate a couple of coveted 600-series hunts with an any-deer bag limit for which many hunters had amassed as many as two dozen preference points.

Following are specific messages from our comments to the Commission:

General elk damage hunts: OHA expressed concern about the season timing regarding limited access due to fire threat on private property, impact to elk herds in units below management objectives (MO), and enforcement concerns with party hunting and access for enforcement. Another concern: Will ODFW follow up with a questionnaire and field monitoring on the effectiveness of these general cow elk damage hunts? OHA’s recommendation is to shorten these seasons and consider tag number caps.

Bag limit changes for blacktails: Allowing spikes to be taken during an unlimited general-season rifle hunt does not seem consistent with Objective 4 of the 2008 Blacktail Management Plan, which states: “Manage black-tailed deer populations to attempt to achieve buck ratios and populations at benchmark levels while collecting information over the next five years to develop Management Objectives.” ODFW is conducting ongoing blacktail population research, which shows a lot of promise for improved population estimation, so why not apply the new spike regulation change to these study areas where more robust population knowledge is present to then test the effect on buck ratios of this proposed regulation change? That is OHA’s recommendation.

Late-season buck hunts for Fossil, Heppner, John Day: Late-season mule deer hunts were not evaluated on a statewide basis to determine biological feasibility and to determine the best unit locations for these hunts. Low buck MOs are established to start with in the proposed units: 12-15 bucks per 100 does.

In response, ODFW indicates that buck numbers in these units are above MOs, but failed to state how low the MOs are and acknowledge the decline in mature mule deer buck populations throughout eastern Oregon. Mature bucks are most vulnerable during the rut. OHA recommendation: Table late-season buck hunts and evaluate feasibility from a biological perspective on statewide basis and to include all users. If there is a surplus of bucks, add tags to the early buck season hunts. Given the success rate during the regular season, the number of tags could be doubled or even tripled, resulting in much more opportunity.

Much change in short order: Will OSP enforcement be able to handle all the changes in the wake of electronic licensing going into effect? OHA recommends a slower and more methodical implementation process to allow for adjustments in administering these regulation changes and to assess problem areas, such as with enforcement and hunter crowding.

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