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Deadline, fine set for hunter reporting

Mandatory reporting of big-game hunting successes in Oregon just got ... mandatory.

After four years without a penalty for skirting the law, hunters will now pay a $25 fee if they fail to report their deer and elk hunt results by the annual deadlines.

Those who purchased tags for this year's hunts and fail to report even their lack of deer and elk hunting by the Jan. 31, 2013, deadline must pay the $25 fee before they can buy a license to hunt in 2014.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday adopted the penalty, matching the maximum allowed under a law passed last year by the Oregon Legislature.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials recommended a $10 penalty. But the seven-member commission opted for the maximum because they believed hunters skirting the current system would be more likely to take notice of the higher fee.

ODFW enacted its mandatory reporting program in 2008 to garner enough data on hunting impacts on big-game species to improve computer models used to estimate animal population trends and set tag numbers. Also, successful hunters were more likely to report than unsuccessful ones, skewing estimates of the numbers of big-game animals killed by hunters annually.

Like other states in the West, Oregon initially imposed no penalties for failing to report and even used incentives to gain compliance, but last year only about half of all tag holders reported hunt information.

The Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association applauded Friday's vote, a move its leadership said has been needed for years.

"The rate of reporting has been dismal, and incomplete data is pretty much worthless," OHA spokesman Duane Dungannon says.

The trick, Dungannon says, was to craft a penalty high enough to get people's attention but not so high as to drive people away from hunting.

"We think the commission probably got it right here," Dungannon says.

Because the Legislature tied the penalties to hunting license sales and not tags, the penalties cannot start until 2014 because 2013 licenses will go on sale Dec. 1, says Michelle Dennehy, ODFW's Wildlife Division spokeswoman.

"The first time we can assess the fee on a hunting license is 2014," Dennehy says.

The mandatory-reporting program covers all deer, elk, pronghorn, cougar, bear and turkey tags purchased and applies even if the tags go unfilled or the owner never hunted at all that season. But the commission opted to levy the penalty only on deer and elk hunters because they are the most egregious violators.

Last year, results were reported on only 41 percent of tags sold — less than half of what biologists have said is necessary for good computer modeling.

Hunters can report online or by calling 1-866-947-6339. The current automated phone system, which has often been criticized by hunters, soon will be replaced by customer-service representatives to take results, Dennehy says.

Hunters also can comply with the reporting rules online at https://or.outdoorcentral.us/or/hunterreport.

Dennehy says her agency recommends hunters do their reporting right after their hunt is done.

Despite the mandatory reporting, the agency has continued to conduct a telephone survey of hunters to compare data. That program, however, is expensive and will be phased out, the agency reports.

As expected, the commission also cut antlerless elk hunting on U.S. Forest Service lands on the west slope of the Cascades, including the Rogue Unit, and in the Ochoco Unit, beginning next year. The move is due to declining elk numbers on national forest lands.

Archers, muzzleloader hunters and hunters with disability permits will no longer be able to take any elk under what has been known informally as a "hair tag." Their new bag limit will be a legal bull.

The commission also made permanent a new temporary program that allows deployed service men and women to get deer and elk tags when they come home during hunting season.

The program was spearheaded by Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Nash, a tank commander from Enterprise who wanted a way to get over-the-counter tags to service men and women on leave. His story was highlighted in last week's Oregon Outdoors section.

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