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Coquille finally get hunting rights

Coquille tribal members got subsistence hunting, fishing rights as part of 19th century treaties never ratified by Congress
A blacktail buck appears to be checking out a game camera mounted in a tree by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists during a deer count in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. [Photo courtesy ODFW]

Coquille Indian Tribe members have their first subsistence hunting opportunities in five southwest Oregon counties under a new state agreement that acknowledges treaty rights once negotiated but never adopted by the federal government.

As part of a new mutual agreement for the tribe to help state agencies manage fish and wildlife species here, tribal members now have new subsistence hunting rights that grant them longer seasons and more liberal bag limits on the region’s big-game animals such as deer and elk, as well as bird species such as turkeys.

Tribal members also are in the midst of negotiating subsistence fishing opportunities with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife which, like the hunting rights, could extend beyond current salmon and steelhead limits imposed on other Oregonians.

The subsistence hunting and fishing rights were negotiated as part of 19th century treaties that were never ratified by Congress.

While the new agreement with the ODFW is independent of the unratified treaties, it represents the first time the Coquille Indian Tribe has recognized hunting rights that differ from hunting privileges offered to non-tribal members in Oregon.

“They’ve been hunters and gatherers the past 15,000 years,” says John Ogan, the tribe’s attorney, who brokered the deal with ODFW. “We’re committed to making sure there isn’t an overharvest in a local area.

“The tribe is more about managing for abundance,” Ogan says.

The tribe’s hunting grounds consist of lands in five counties — Jackson, Curry, Coos, Douglas and Lane — where tribal members currently live, officials said. Josephine County is not involved because it recently had no documented tribal members, Ogan says.

But so far, only 70 tribal members have signed up for these free licenses and tags, and only one animal — a cow Roosevelt elk shot by a teenager on tribal land in Coos County — has been killed as part of the new program, says Ogan.

“I don’t think the general public understands the really small number of folks who are participating,” Ogan says.

ODFW officials agree, saying the agency sells about 100,000 hunting, angling and shellfish licenses in those five counties. The ODFW’s Southwest Region deer hunts, for instance, logged 28,349 hunters, who killed 10,386 deer, agency records show.

“Tribal members participating in harvest will be a very small fraction of the hunting and fishing occurring in southwest Oregon,” says ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy.

The Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association is keeping a watchful eye on the new program.

Tyler Dungannon, conservation coordinator for OHA, said his group is looking forward to the tribe’s harvest data to gauge the impacts. OHA considers the tribe to be a key partner in developing state and federal management plans and policies that improve deer and elk herds to the benefit of all Oregonians, Dungannon says.

“Tribes are powerful entities that are capable of influencing land and predator management decisions, which benefits Oregon’s hunters,” Dungannon says.

The Coquille Tribe consists of about 1,200 members worldwide, with just under 600 members in the five-county area, Ogan says.

The tribe’s hunting seasons are outlined in a pamphlet sent to members detailing how they can use their tribal identification as a hunting license and how to secure free big-game tags from tribal leaders.

“I think it’s hard to look at that pamphlet and say that it’s going to be less opportunity for (others),” Ogan says.

For black-tailed deer, the tribal limit is three deer per year, and only one can be an antlerless doe. The tribes had an any-weapon season Aug. 13-26, then must hunt in conjunction with the state’s traditional archery season that runs from Aug. 27 through Sept. 25.

After that, tribal members have a season with any legal weapon from Sept. 26 through Nov. 30, and then a bucks-only season with any legal weapon through all of December.

Other Oregonians can kill one buck deer in these areas, either with a bow or a rifle in limited seasons.

Tribal members can kill one elk a year under season structures that, for non-tribal members, typically cover one week a year for rifle hunters and four weeks for archery hunters.

The tribe’s elk season started Aug. 13 and runs uninterrupted through Dec. 31, with some seasonal limitations on weapon use and whether cow elk are allowed.

All tribal permit-holders will be required to report their success or lack thereof, Ogan says.

The agreement with ODFW also allows for year-round hunting of black bear and cougar, and as many as eight wild turkeys per year, the pamphlet states.

In the past five years, tribal members were reimbursed for the licenses and tags they bought from ODFW, Ogan says.

The tribe and ODFW are in the midst of negotiating subsistence fishing rules that could be in place as early as later this year.

Issues include tribal harvest of wild steelhead and spring chinook outside of current restrictions that include one of the only opportunities to kill wild winter steelhead in the lower 48 states.

Ogan called it “irresponsible and racist“ to assume or suggest that the tribe will seek any gillnetting opportunities on the Rogue and other regional rivers as part of that negotiation.

“There’s absolutely no proposal that would change anything from the traditional rod-and-reel opportunity,” Ogan says.

Mark Freeman covers the environment for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470 or email him at mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.