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Applegate bear hunters might not need coast elk tag next year

Bear hunters who have wanted to ply the bruin-rich Applegate Unit during that unit's fall elk seasons without having to buy a coast-elk hunt tag would get a break under new rules being considered for the 2012 season.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is proposing to drop the elk-tag requirement during the two short November seasons beginning next year in the Applegate Unit of western Jackson and Josephine counties.

The unit, where ODFW biologists are de-emphasizing elk presence, is one of the best bear-hunting areas in the state, with the 100 black bears shot by hunters there last fall being the largest fall harvest of any unit statewide.

"It's really a bear-hunting unit and not an elk-hunting unit," says Mark Vargas, the ODFW's Rogue District wildlife biologist and author of the proposal. "Why make somebody have to buy an elk tag to hunt bears where there are no elk?"

The change will save hunters $42.50 and still allow them to take part in the general rifle season in the High Cascades, while keeping the Applegate area as a fall bear-hunting opportunity.

The possible change highlights a relatively light list of proposed alterations to big-game hunts for 2012 that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider today during its meeting in Pendleton.

Most seasons and bag limits will remain unchanged from this year, except for the standard tweaks to the start and end of elk and deer seasons to keep openers on Saturdays.

Bag-limit changes and other hunt alterations are sprinkled throughout the state. The Tioga and Sixes units would see bag-limit changes to archery elk hunts and for hunters with disability permits should the commission adopt the package.

In the Tioga Unit, biologists want to drop the current bag limits during muzzleloader and archery seasons from one antlerless elk or one three-point or better bull to just one three-point or better bull.

In the Sixes Unit, biologists want to add antlerless elk to that unit's bag limit of one bull.

The shift is based in the numbers.

The Tioga Unit's elk herd is about 1,000 animals shy of the agency's management objective of 8,000 elk, and antlerless hunts are often the first trimmed when animal numbers slump.

The opposite is occurring in the Sixes Unit, where an elk population of roughly 4,000 animals exceeds the unit's management objective of 2,400 elk.

The agency is proposing no changes to the state's cougar quotas or seasons.

Agency biologists proposed dropping the Cusick Mountain rocky mountain goat hunt and creating a new South Snake River hunt for goats.

Sheep hunters would see several changes if the proposals are adopted.

Agency biologists have also proposed combining the two Upper Owyhee and two East Trout Creek hunts into one new East Whitehorse hunt.

Similarly, the two Alvord-Buckskin hunts and East Beatys Butte hunt will be combined into two East Beatys Butte-Alvord Peak hunts.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.