|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.
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.
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
Eastern Oregon antlerless tag numbers were set at 6,215, a 4 percent decrease from 1999.
Controlled hunting has been implemented:
Rocky Mountain Elk
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2000, 4,251 applications were received for the three tags.
Other Adopted Proposals for 2001:
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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