Bear hunting opens Tuesday with mandatory check-in rule

Spring black bear hunters who hit the woods beginning Tuesday in southwest Oregon will be ushering in more than just the 2008 big-game hunting seasons.

They will become the first group of Oregon bear hunters — and the last in the West — to fall under mandatory check-in requirements adopted last year to ensure state wildlife biologists get the best possible information about Oregon's only bear species.

Under the program, the skulls from any bear killed by hunters must be taken to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife field office within 10 days of its death.

ODFW biologists will use a special tool to remove a premolar tooth without breaking the roots, and a molar tooth and canine teeth will be measured.

"It has to be thawed before it gets to our office before we can pull a tooth," ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy says.

The premolar tooth will be checked for tetracycline stains as part of a massive mark-and-recapture study on bears.

Each year, ODFW biologists put out baits laced with tetracycline statewide. By counting the baits and then counting the numbers of hunter-killed bears with fresh tetracycline stains, biologists can use computer models to estimate population sizes and densities.

The molar measurement will determine the bear's sex, says Mark Vargas, an ODFW wildlife biologist in the agency's Central Point office. After the tooth measurements, the skull will be tagged.

For years, the ODFW relied on volunteer tooth-removal as part of its bear studies, Vargas says.

For the past eight years, however, fewer than 30 percent of hunters have voluntarily checked in their bears. Oregon's 1993 Black Bear Management Plan called for mandatory check-in to begin under those conditions.

The same program will apply to general-season black bear hunters, as well.

While Vargas is ready to start pulling teeth, he doesn't expect any lines at the Central Point office off East Gregory Road.

Though the season opens Tuesday and runs through May 31, success rates are notoriously low and most hunting occurs in the second half of the season, when black bears are more active and snow levels recede.

"As for the first few weeks, we tell people to use the time for some scouting, getting to learn the country," Vargas says. "Realistically, especially with all this snow, the later you can hunt the better."

The agency issued 3,575 tags for the southwest Oregon hunt, which covers 10 big-game management units throughout Western Oregon south of Eugene.

The most recent available statistics cover the 2006 spring season, during which the agency issued 2,400 tags in the southwest Oregon hunt, with survey results showing that 1,680 of those tag-holders chose to hunt while 720 tag-holders did not hunt at all.

Hunters in that unit killed 102 males and 32 females for an overall success rate of 7.9 percent, records show.

Tag-holders are allowed to kill one black bear, but cubs less than a year old and sows with cubs less than a year old are off-limits.

The only paved backwoods road between Powers and Agness will be closed indefinitely due to a large boulder across the roadway, according to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Forest engineers said Forest Road No. 33, the so-called Agness Road, was closed to traffic in both directions between mileposts 56 and 57.

The closure is in the Powers Ranger District just past Elk Creek Falls.

The Agness Road connects Powers in southern Coos County with Agness, a lower Rogue River outpost 32 miles east of Gold Beach. It is a popular rafting and fishing destination, especially in the summer and fall.

There are no alternative access roads between Powers and Agness. There was no projected date this week for the road's re-opening.

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