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OR: 83% of Oregon's hunters do not follow regulations

September 26, 2009

Last year, when mandatory reporting requirements kicked in for most big-game hunters in Oregon, about one in six complied.

Rob Alfonso, a hunter who also works at Keith's Sporting Goods in Gresham, wasn't at all shocked that 83 percent of hunters didn't participate in a program designed to help the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife better manage game animals -- and perhaps increase hunting opportunities when data supports it.

"It's just a matter of getting used to the system. There's nothing sinister," Alfonso said about the low turnout. "I got a tag last year. Honestly, I didn't report it."

Michelle Dennehy, an ODFW spokeswoman, also isn't surprised that compliance got off to a slow start, because the new rule has neither carrot nor stick to encourage hunters to report. In other words, the rules have been "mandatory" largely in name only.

That is about to change. Next year, ODFW hopes to add an incentive for hunters to report results of hunts for deer, elk, antelope, bear, cougar and turkey. Their reward could be freedom to buy one of three special tags with a longer season and wider hunting area for the hunter's choice of deer, elk or pronghorn.

Then ODFW wants to start swinging a stick in 2011. Hunters who don't report their hunts from that year could be barred from buying a tag the next season. And then in 2012, those who still aren't reporting might face a fee to get themselves back into the system to obtain hunting tags.

These proposed penalties and incentives will go to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for possible adoption with other big-game regulations Oct. 2, and any fees imposed also would require approval from the Oregon Legislature, Dennehy said.

Just forgot

Although a handful of hunters communicated off the record their beliefs that the new requirements are a hassle and possibly wasteful, it appears many who failed to report simply didn't understand or remember the requirement. In fact, most respondents to an informal poll for this story conducted on ifish.net supported mandatory reporting, and several noted that the task took them a few minutes.

Bill Littlefield, who represents central Oregon for the Oregon Hunters Association's board of directors, has heard some grumbling about the new rules, including from those hunters who didn't want to reveal where they bagged their animals. But he believes the only way to truly manage the resource is to start with good data.

"I don't think we can expect them to do a good job if we don't give them the tools to do that job," Littlefield said. "It's really hard -- and may be impossible -- to do that if you don't have good information."

Dennehy and others said mandatory reporting already is in effect across much of the West, and typically compliance was low in other states until penalties began. She expects the same pattern in Oregon, where starting a mandatory reporting rule was delayed until after a new license sales system went into effect last year so they could be integrated.

ODFW's follow-up telephone surveys showed that hunters who bagged an animal last year were more likely to report than those who came home empty-handed or decided not to hunt at all.

"It's as important for us to know who didn't get an animal as those who did," Dennehy said. "The more accurate information we get, we're hopeful the more we can maximize hunting opportunity."

Littlefield also said providing hunting opportunities is a source of revenue for the department, so he doubts data would be used to curtail harvests, except where necessary.

As a side benefit, Dennehy said, reports also may influence legislators and other decision-makers because the information supports data showing the boost hunters give to local economies.

Making it simple

Dennehy said ODFW is working to make mandatory reporting easier, with two instructions and a worksheet printed in regulations booklets and a new My Hunter Information link from the agency's hunting pages, where hunters can easily report their information and track their status.

The department also will ask its commission to set a Jan. 31 deadline for reporting all late-summer and fall hunts in one session. However, hunts scheduled early in the calendar year would have separate deadlines following those seasons.

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