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Hunters will get tagged after failing to file reports

Thousands of Oregon deer and elk hunters face a $25 fine after failing to make Thursday night's deadline for reporting their 2012 hunting results.

They will be the first people to get nicked for not participating under a mandatory reporting program passed by the Oregon Legislature.

A flurry of hunters rushed to meet the deadline this week for reporting to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials said, and by Thursday night 86 percent of elk hunters and 84 percent of deer hunters had filled out the requisite forms.

That's far better than the 52 percent of elk-tag holders and 48 percent of deer-tag holders who reported last year, when the program was mandatory but before fines had been added for noncompliance.

When the program began after the 2007 hunting season — without penalties — the agency received information from just 3 percent of hunters.

The information gathered under the program will be used by ODFW biologists to develop deer and elk estimates, which helps them when setting up hunting seasons.

"We never had a prediction on what we'd get, but certainly this is a heck of a lot better than we've done in the past," said ODFW Wildlife Division spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy. "Certainly it will make the data better than when we had 50 percent."

Last year ODFW sold 175,235 deer tags and 114,452 elk tags, Dennehy said. The owners of each of those tags must report their results, even if they didn't hunt.

The penalties affect only those hunters with deer and elk tags, but buyers of bear, cougar, pronghorn and turkey tags are also supposed to report their results.

By Thursday's deadline, 78 percent of bear-tag holders, 73 percent of cougar-tag holders, 93 percent of pronghorn-tag holders and 79 percent of turkey-tag holders had reported either over the telephone or the Internet, according to ODFW.

The agency sold 26,673 bear tags, 20,986 cougar tags, 1,808 pronghorn tags and 25,722 turkey tags in 2012.

The overall reporting rate was 82 percent for 2012 hunts.

Those who missed the deadline must pay the penalty before receiving a hunting license in 2014.

The penalty is per hunter, so those who bought both deer and elk tags but failed to report will be fined just $25, Dennehy said.

The number of hunters facing the fine was unknown Friday, she said.

The agency has no plans to offer any form of amnesty for non-reporters, Dennehy said. Also, no late reports will be accepted, she said.

"We're at the point where we have to say, sorry, that's it," Dennehy said. "Now we need to get that raw data into a workable form."

Before instituting fines, Oregon tried to use positive incentives to get people to comply with reporting rules, but rates still lagged.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in October adopted the penalty, matching the maximum allowed under a law passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2011.

ODFW officials recommended a $10 penalty. But the seven-member commission opted for the maximum because they believed hunters skirting the rules would be more likely to take notice of the higher fee.

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

Note: The original version of this story contained incorrect numbers of deer and elk tags sold in Oregon in 2012.