Oregon Sets Big Game Regs
Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission completed the final stage of the 2000 big game regulations process Saturday with their adoption of big game tag numbers. Commissioners voted down a proposal to re-establish the Canyon Creek archery-only area, eliminated the second chance controlled hunt draw, retained the existing prohibition to carry firearms during archery season, and added second tag opportunities for cougar in northeast Oregon and bear in southwest Oregon. The regulation process began in the spring of 1999, when staff biologists first presented to the Commissioners a conceptual look at their general 2000 season recommendations. In the fall of 1999, staff incorporated Commission guidance to select the season dates, locations and other specific information for the 2000 regulations. Today's commission action incorporated the most recent biological data to establish tag numbers, which were adopted as Oregon Administrative Rules. The process now begins to award controlled hunt tags to those who applied in May. Results will be available June 20.

Archery deer hunters got some good news with a change in bag limit in several units across central Oregon. Hunters in the Hood, Biggs, Fort Rock, Fossil, Heppner, Silver Lake units, and that part of the Columbia Basin unit open to archery hunting, as well as in the White River unit outside the National Forest, will be allowed to harvest any deer instead of the previous bag limit of one buck.

However, commissioners unanimously voted down a staff proposal to establish a traditional archery season in the Canyon Creek area near the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area. Commissioners expressed concern that the proposal unnecessarily restricted the opportunities of rifle buck hunters for the benefit of archers.

Black-tailed Deer
Western Oregon black-tailed deer provide the basis for liberal general deer hunting seasons. However, reduced harvest and hunter success rates in recent years seem to indicate that black-tailed deer populations may be dropping. Biologists believe that most black-tailed deer habitats are declining and that deer populations reflect the limits imposed by those habitats.

The department has initiated a review of harvest and trend data. A possible response to declining populations could be removing one week from the end of the season and changing the bag limit during antlerless seasons from "one spike or antlerless deer" to "one antlerless deer." Any action taken on this issue will not be proposed until June 2001 and implemented in the 2001 hunting season.

Mule Deer
All rifle hunting for buck deer in eastern Oregon is conducted under a controlled hunt system, with tags issued on the basis of evaluations of herd trends, buck ratios and other considerations, such as weather, hunter crowding and hunter success. First implemented in 1991, the controlled hunt system for mule deer has helped improve buck ratios in most herds by restricting the number of hunters. Following the 1999 hunting season, buck ratios in 68 percent of the eastern Oregon units were at or above biological Management Objectives (MO).

Commissioners adopted staff recommendations for 70,241 controlled buck rifle tags in 2000, slightly fewer than last year, but when High Cascade, Controlled Bow and Controlled Muzzleloader tags are included, the total of 77,588 tags is an increase of 363 tags over last year. Biologists expect mule deer populations to continue to increase, as Oregon's last winter was mild and wet, contributing to a forage base that should remain good through summer 2000.

Antlerless Deer Hunts
All antlerless deer hunting in Oregon is conducted under a controlled hunt system. Antlerless tag numbers in Western Oregon were established at 27,966, a 6 percent decrease from the number of 1999 tags.

Eastern Oregon antlerless tag numbers were set at 6,215, a 4 percent decrease from 1999.

Elk hunting opportunities are conducted under a variety of season structures, with general seasons occurring in the Cascades, most of the Coast Range, some limited areas during the Rocky Mountain first season and some of eastern Oregon during the Rocky Mountain second season. The rest of the opportunities are provided through the issuance of controlled hunt tags.

Controlled hunting has been implemented:
• Where overharvest has occurred under general season regulations in the past,
• Where antler point regulations are in place and a higher standard of hunter compliance is required, and
• Where limited hunter numbers will contribute to a high-quality hunt.

Rocky Mountain Elk
Since 1996, the department has managed bull elk in northeast Oregon through a series of strategies designed to improve herd health by limiting the harvest of mature bulls. This has been accomplished by emphasizing tags for spike bulls and cows. The strategy has worked, as reflected in increased bull ratios in most of Northeast Oregon, but continuing declines in calf recruitment and low populations in some units are a concern for staff biologists.

Commissioners adopted staff recommendations for 31,524 bull and either-sex tags in eastern Oregon, a 4 percent reduction from 1999. Antlerless elk hunters will have a chance at 15,212 tags, a 2 percent decrease from 1999.

Roosevelt Elk
In 1999, staff concern over long-term declines in bull ratios in much of western Oregon led the commission to reduce the general season bull hunting seasons to four and seven days in length. The department undertook an appraisal of age structure of bulls by collecting and analyzing teeth of harvested bulls. In the coming years, this study should allow biologists to assess of the effectiveness of the season changes in improving the bull ratios. Commissioners approved the sale of 9,793 bull and either-sex elk tags, a 16 percent reduction from 1999.
In western Oregon, 3,743 antlerless elk tags were approved for the 2000 season, an increase of three tags over 1999.

The Commission authorized an 8 percent increase in the number of tags available to 5,245 for the 2001 controlled spring bear season. Spring bear hunting areas were expanded in eastern Oregon to better distribute hunters. The Commission adopted rules that allow hunters to harvest a second fall bear from 11 hunt units in southwest Oregon starting in 2001. Hunters must purchase both general season tags prior to the tag sale deadline. The 2001 general fall seasons in eastern and western Oregon were adopted with minor calendar shifts from 2000.

Bear populations are stable to increasing in Oregon. Bear harvests have increased slightly in recent years and usually occur incidentally during deer or elk seasons. In 1999, spring bear harvest declined 17 percent to 181 and fall general season hunters killed 856, a 3 percent increase.

A 5 percent increase in the cougar harvest quota was adopted for fall 2000, bringing the total to 400 statewide. Biologists are attempting to stabilize the population.

For 2001, the general cougar season will be split between Jan.1-May 31, 2001 and Aug. 1-Dec. 31, 2001. In southwest Oregon, an extended season was adopted for Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2001. A second cougar tag was authorized for 2001 in northeast Oregon due to a growing population and increasing damage complaints. Both tags must be purchased by a tag sale deadline of Sept. 28.

About 90 percent of cougars killed by hunters are harvested incidentally during elk and deer seasons. Hunters killed 156 cougars in Oregon last year, a 16 percent increase from the previous year. Damage complaints increased by 9 percent to 945 from last year.

A mild winter and good fawn recruitment prompted the Commission to approve a 7.3 percent increase to 2,383 pronghorn antelope tags for this fall. For 2001, the pronghorn season will remain unchanged.

Following several years of poor fawn recruitment, the pronghorn population appears to be increasing in eastern Oregon. The buck-to-doe ratio increased 23 percent last year to an average of 27:100. Fawn-to-doe ratios increased 59 percent to 35:100. Pronghorn populations maintain themselves with a fawn ratio of 25:100.

Last year, 49 percent of tag holders harvested an animal, which was a slight increase from 1998.

Bighorn Sheep
Hunters will see a 6 percent increase in the number of controlled hunt tags for California bighorn sheep and no change in the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep tags for 2000. ODFW will sell 53 California bighorn tags and nine Rocky Mountain tags in 33 hunts.

For 2001, one new Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunt with one tag will be added, two Deschutes River hunts will be split into four, and the Steens Mountain hunt area will be expanded.

Sheep hunters had high success in 1999, with 53 bighorns taken from 59 tags. Bighorn sheep populations are improving after disease setbacks and an active transplant program in recent years.

The Commission also approved continuing a program to auction one bighorn sheep tag and raffle one tag. Since its inception, the raffle and auction program has raised $1.2 million to fund management of Oregon's bighorn populations.

Mountain Goat
As with last year, hunters are authorized to harvest three Rocky Mountain goats in 2000. No changes were made to the hunts for 2001.

In 2000, 4,251 applications were received for the three tags.

Other Adopted Proposals for 2001:
2001 General Seasons: The 2001 seasons generally resemble the 2000 seasons, with normal calendar shifts. The deadline for tag purchase of tags is the day before the hunt begins.

Controlled Hunt Drawing: A single drawing will occur for controlled big game hunts in 2001 following the May 15 application tag deadline. This change eliminates a longstanding "second chance draw" opportunity for unsold tags. A task force recommended this change to simplify the entire process and provide equal opportunity to all hunters. All the tag numbers will be increased by a small percentage to account for the unsold tags. Because of the elimination of the second draw, the Commission also amended the landowner preference program to accommodate the single draw process. Landowners must register their land and submit the tag distribution by the day prior to season start. The adopted rules allow ODFW time to determine if two-thirds of the tags are given to family members, as required.

The 1999 Legislature directed ODFW to develop a system to sell leftover controlled hunt tags for up to four times the price. ODFW is continuing to study such a system, which could allow hunters to obtain a second tag for a particular hunt.

Master Hunter/Emergency Hunts: Hunters who have completed ODFW's Master Hunter program will move to the top of a list for emergency hunts in the county in which they apply, according to a proposal adopted for 2001. Emergency hunts are often established to address damage problems in small areas. Currently, emergency hunt applications are randomized in July annually. New applications are added in the order received. With the new rule, non-master hunters would be put in random order after the master hunters.

Travel Management and Special Areas: Several changes were made to areas with travel restrictions to decrease harassment of game in winter range areas or minimize motorized travel during the hunting season.

Handguns During Archery Seasons: The Commission retained a rule that prohibits the possession of a firearm during the archery-only seasons. The Commission received several requests to allow archers to carry handguns for personal safety. Public input favored the current regulation by more than two to one.

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