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Birds of prey

Less experienced falconers will become eligible to raise and hunt with peregrines in Oregon, and more people can attempt to get one of these rare raptors from the wild under a loosening of falconry rules adopted Friday.

So-called “general” falconers will join the “master” group of this small, wildlife niche hunting group now permitted to legally raise and train peregrines to hunt waterfowl and other birds during regular fall hunting seasons under a tightly monitored program that follows federal guidelines.

For decades, only master falconers could raise and train these birds, which can dive at speeds of 200 mph or more, to hunt waterfowl and other birds during regular fall and winter seasons.

Oregon has 80 licensed master falconers and 29 general falconers, along with 35 apprentices who must be taken under the wing of master or general falconers.

General falconers must be at least 18 years old and show documented ability to train and care for raptors for at least five years before becoming a master. Previously masters could keep and train any of a dozen raptors listed in Oregon, including peregrines, gyr falcons and golden eagles, according to state statutes.

“We feel generals definitely have the experience to handle and look after peregrines,” said Martin Nugent, who oversees the threatened and endangered species program for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We feel it doesn’t have any impact on the conservation of the species and we’re generally dealing with people who are reliable and upstanding,” Nugent said.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted on the changes Friday while meeting during the Pacific Sportsmen’s Expo Show at the Portland Expo Center.

Also, the commission loosened the rules for who gets a license to pluck one of the up to 10 peregrines allowed to be taken by falconers from the wild, usually netted after they fledge their nest.

In recent years, an average of just one peregrine has been taken from the wild in Oregon by the fewer than 10 permit seekers, Nugent says.

Current rules require falconers to apply for a permit via a lottery. The new rules allow any licensed general or master falconer to buy a permit and seek out a bird during the “capture season” of May 15 through Aug. 31, according to statute.

Once seven peregrines are taken by permit-holders, the remaining permit-holders would enter a lottery for the final three slots.

“We still have the same ceiling for the number of birds that can be taken,” Nugent says.

Also under the loosened rules, Jackson and Josephine counties will be open to prairie falcon capture, but the statewide limit on prairie falcons taken from the wild will remain at five per year.

The practice was formerly banned in Jackson and Josephine counties, along with Wasco, Gilliam, Umatilla and Sherman counties.

Falconry dates back 4,000 years, with handlers training these apex aerial predators to hunt birds from the air. Handlers in the field act like bird dogs to flush ducks from ponds so the peregrines, which can hover at heights of 1,000 feet above the ground, can dive down to take them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1972 took over raptor regulations, and Oregon first adopted falconry rules in 1977. State rules have consistently been more stringent than federal rules.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwriterFreeman.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Master Falconer Dave Peterson works with a paragon falcon at this home in rural Rosburg in September. More licensed falconers will be able to possess and train paragon falcons under new rules adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.