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State looks at hunt-reporting incentives, penalties

State wildlife biologists will decide in the next few months whether to rely on carrots or sticks as incentives for getting hunters to comply with Oregon's new program of mandatory reporting of their prowess.

With success reports on fewer than 13 percent of the 281,208 tags issued to hunters last year, biologists are mulling whether to use incentives or punishments to get hunters to comply with the new rule, whether they killed an animal or not.

Though the rule now states that completing the telephone or online survey is mandatory, there currently are no incentives for doing so or punishments for failing to complete it.

Offering incentives to get a hunter to file a report on his or her previous year's hunting success, or a penalty for not doing it in a timely fashion — or a combination of both — could be up for public review by early May, authorities say.

"Right now, it's not working very well," says Ron Anglin, the Wildlife Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "So we're going to put some ideas out there, and they probably will include both. We'll see what people think."

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to discuss any hunt changes for 2010 in June, with the package of new hunts and other rules set for adoption in October.

Hunting groups across Oregon are keeping a close eye on the process.

The Oregon Hunters Association's board of directors likely will take a position on the ODFW's recommendations when they come out, says Duane Dungannon, secretary of the Medford-based group.

"Our support will be what those carrots and sticks are," Dungannon says.

Dungannon says his group, for instance, would not support a penalty of taking away preference points collected by hunters to give themselves better odds at drawing tough-to-get tags in the controlled-hunt lottery.

"I think those are thought of as sacred cows," Dungannon says.

Anglin says the ODFW likely will recommend only changes that can be made on the commission level. Changes such as charging late-filing hunters more for a license or tag would have to be done by the Oregon Legislature and could not be done in time for 2010, Anglin says.

"We wouldn't even consider trying that unless other things didn't work and we had data to back that up," Anglin says.

The ODFW has joined most other states in the West by requiring that hunters report when and where they hunted, what animals they killed, the animals' sex, and how many days they spent hunting.

The data would replace telephone surveys the agency now does to create estimates of hunter success and harvest rates. The information in turn is used by biologists as part of their arsenal when recommending tag numbers for the next year's hunts.

"Without that information, biologists will be more conservative when making their recommendations," Anglin says. "So it really is in the hunters' best interest to get those reports in."

The poor showing flies against conventional wisdom among Oregon's hunters that providing as much information about the animals they kill and the effort they put out for them should help big-game managers.

Archers, mule-deer hunters and black-tailed deer hunters who have attended ODFW planning meetings in recent years have all endorsed the idea.

The Oregon Hunters Association last year surveyed almost 1,000 new members on a variety of issues, including whether they supported mandatory reporting, says Dungannon.

"An overwhelming majority said yes," he says. "Yet when it's put in place, there's an absolute dismal response. That's disappointing."

The telephone surveys cost about $200,000 a year and produce data at a lower confidence level than what is expected from the new program, Anglin says.

"It's kind of hard for me to complain about fee increases and not participate in a simple harvest survey that costs me nothing," Dungannon says.

"Plus, I got a deer this year and I want to brag about it," he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.