About 30 Douglas County hunters attended a meeting at Backside Brewing on Tuesday to ask questions about major changes being proposed to Oregon’s big game hunting regulations.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently finished a two-year review of hunting regulations with the goal of simplifying and making them more consistent with current animal populations. The changes modify bag limits and season structures that officials say are outdated and produce negative impacts on populations — many of the rules have been in place since the 1950s.
ODFW officials said the changes, which will take effect in 2020, were substantial enough that public meetings between multiple wildlife biologists and hunters were necessary. At the meeting, many hunters questioned the agency’s motivations for the changes and they were skeptical of the results the changes would produce. For hunters, who have to understand the changes to apply for tags and plan trips, the proposal represents more work, they said.
Tod Lum, a wildlife biologist with the ODFW Roseburg district, said his office has never held a public meeting in a setting such as a brewery. He hoped the friendly atmosphere would yield productive conversations.
“In the past, getting people to show up to these meetings is difficult,” Lum said. “Not just busy schedules and conflicts, but interest, and a lot of folks think you guys are going to do what you want to do, my voice is this big, what does it matter, a lot of apathy. So we’re just trying to ... let them know they are being heard.”
The day after the meeting, Lum said he was happy so many people showed up and asked questions, but he admitted the meeting was draining. The meeting was initially scheduled to last an hour and a half, but ODFW officials ended up staying to answer questions for three hours — the brewery technically closed an hour before.
The proposed changes include widespread hunt date expansions and hunt consolidation — 127 hunts being consolidated into 49 hunts, for example.
Nathan Radford, a hunter from Roseburg who attended the meeting, said he was worried about how a major change to the Western Oregon general rifle deer season would affect deer populations.
The proposal would change the bag limit from “one buck deer having not less than a forked antler” to “one buck with visible antler.” It would make the bag limit consistent with the Eastern Oregon regulations, making enforcement easier and removing a rule that isn’t currently biologically-relevant, according to the ODFW website.
“The changes are going to annihilate our deer population,” Radford said. “They’re out meat hunting, now people are going to shoot the first (buck) they see.”
While ODFW officials say the change will create more opportunities for hunters, they add the population is sufficient to support increased harvest.
Lum said the fear that deer populations will be harmed by the change is misguided.
“Biologically, why would we want to do that?” Lum said. “It doesn’t make any sense. The department is not interested in that.”
He said officials were motivated to make the change because there’s no biological justification for a difference between the western and eastern Oregon buck bag limits.
Radford said he thinks the department wants to expand harvest opportunities for the revenue it will bring in from more successful hunts. He said the sport has become gradually more expensive in the 25 years he’s been hunting.
“You got to buy permits to go into places, you got to buy tags, everything goes up,” Radford said. “It’s a rich man’s thing now.”
Lum said prioritizing short-term financial gain would not be in the best interest of the department or the animals long-term.
“If you go back to the agency mission as a department, our responsibility is to the resource — that we perpetuate it for present and future populations,” Lum said. “There’s not much we do that’s very short term.”
He said while the department held the meeting in part to dispel misconceptions about the changes, all public comments are welcome. Submitted comments have already led officials to alter the changes, he said.
Other hunters at the meeting weren’t as cynical about ODFW’s motivations for the changes as Radford, however.
Joe Mitchell wasn’t convinced the changes will produce more revenue for the department. He said he and many other hunters will be willing to pass up multiple bucks with single spike antlers for the buck he wants.
“Sometimes I might not fill my tag because I didn’t find what I want, and that’s fine,” Mitchell said
“Every one of these people here have got their different opinions,” he said. “(ODFW officials) are kind of in a no-win situation. They’re going to catch hell no matter what they do. They’re catching hell when they do nothing, they’re catching hell when they do something. I have my opinions on stuff, but I have no right to complain.”
The department is accepting public comments until Aug. 26 and officials will make final decisions on the changes on Sept. 13. Details and documents about the proposed changes can be viewed here.