Some animal-welfare activists are irate that state wildlife managers are using an Oregon Hunters Association meeting Thursday in Medford as the venue for gathering local comments on whether to tighten wildlife trapping restrictions in 2013.
Wildlife advocate Sally Mackler said she believed it was inappropriate for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to pair up at such meetings with the OHA, which has locked horns with animal activists over the past two decades. (Correction: Details about Sally Mackler's affiliations have been updated in this story.)
Anyone wanting to comment on big-game tag numbers for 2012 or potential changes to hunting or trapping rules for 2013, has several ways to comment.
Mackler said she was not informed of the OHA meeting at 7 p.m. at the Eagles Lodge in Medford, and that other like-minded people interested in reducing trapping's risks to pets and nontarget animals likely would feel intimidated by the OHA crowd.
"I'm uncomfortable showing up there," Mackler said.
"I think it's very short-sighted, inappropriate and un-user friendly, regardless of the topic," she said.
The agency each May seeks comments on any potential changes to hunting regulations and tag numbers proposed for upcoming big-game hunts later that year. Most comments tend to be about whether specific hunts have too many or too few tags.
To get hunters' input, the agency has gone to meetings such as the OHA's Rogue Valley Chapter meeting for comments. "People are busy so we want to get in where people are already scheduled to be," said Michelle Dennehy, the ODFW's Wildlife Division spokeswoman.
Those who don't want to attend public meetings can send letters, facsimiles and emails with their comments to ODFW headquarters and testify in front of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which sets hunting policies and authorizes tag numbers, Dennehy said.
"We make every effort to give people a chance to provide their input," Dennehy said.
Mackler, however, claimed the agency caters too much to the OHA.
Of the 20 public meetings scheduled for input this month, five are scheduled as part of OHA chapter meetings.
Although the bulk of the ODFW presentation planned for Tuesday's meeting is about big-game tag numbers, Mackler said she believes the ODFW should not use OHA meetings to gather input "regardless of the topic."
"It shouldn't be any more convenient for a special-interest group than Joe Q. Public," Mackler said.
Duane Dungannon, state coordinator of the Medford-based OHA, said his group supports Oregon's roughly 1,300 licensed trappers but has taken no stance on trap-check changes proposed by Mackler and others.
The general public is welcomed at OHA meetings, Dungannon said.
"We've had Sally Mackler at our meeting before," Dungannon said. "I don't remember it being that big of an issue."
When Mackler balked in 2007 at attending a similar OHA meeting to comment on cougar hunting zones, the agency cancelled the comment portion of the OHA meeting and made it informational-only. ODFW biologist Mark Vargas then arranged a new meeting at the ODFW's conference room at the Denman Wildlife Area later that month and about a half-dozen people attended, Vargas said.
Vargas said he continued the dual meeting schedule for two more years and no one showed up to the Denman meetings, so he discontinued the practice in 2009.
This week's meeting to take comments from OHA members on tag numbers was set long before Mackler and others in March petitioned the commission to change trapping requirements after a half-dozen dogs were caught in traps set near trails in Central Oregon. Traps set by federal Wildlife Services agents to catch coyotes at Oregon State University's sheep farm also were reported by neighbors to have caught a deer fawn, raccoons and house pets.
Specifically, the petition sought to require that trappers stay more than 100 feet from trails on public land and place clearly visible warning signs and their name and telephone number on their traps.
It also sought to require that all traps and snares be checked every 24 hours.
Current rules, last revamped in 2004, have check times that vary from 48 hours for furbearer traps set on public land to 30 days for lethal traps set for predators on private property. Traps have identification numbers so they can be traced by the ODFW and the Oregon State Police, but not the general public.
The petition exempted trappers of gophers, moles, mountain beavers, rats and mice on property owned by the person setting the traps
The commission denied the petition in April, but instructed ODFW biologists to gather input on those issues as part of its review of hunting regulation proposals for 2013. Those issues are up for comment now and will be presented to the commission in June.
Hunting and trapping regulations for the 2013 big game seasons will be set at the commission's Oct. 5 meeting in Salem.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.