Legislators to seek input from hunters

Salem — Hunters will have center stage before a committee of the Oregon Legislature Feb. 26 to talk about ways to grow their ilk.

The House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities Committee has invited Oregon hunters to a hearing to discuss ways to reverse a nationwide decline in hunter numbers — a decline less precipitous in Oregon than elsewhere.

The hearing was called by the committee chair, Rep. Brian Clem, a Salem Democrat and fifth-generation Oregonian who is an avid hunter. Clem is looking at ways to remove barriers to recruiting and keeping Oregon's 260,000 resident hunters in the field.

"Hunting has been a major part of Oregon culture for 150-plus years," Clem said in an interview. "I think it should still be part of it. Let's talk about how to make that happen.

"I hope we get a bunch of people," he said.

The Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association plans to take advantage of this rare legislative face-time, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Hearing Room D of the State Capitol Building, 900 Court St. NE, Salem.

OHA President Fred Craig, of Grants Pass, said members plan to discuss issues such as declining big-game herds, development in prime backwoods habitat, public access opportunities and other issues.

"It's going to put hunters in front of legislators and give us the opportunity to express some of our concerns," Craig said. "Even if it's only for a few hours, we ought to get some benefit from that."

Hunter numbers nationwide have slowly eroded over time.

According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife statistics, resident hunting license sales in Oregon have been on a steady decline since sales peaked in 1980 at 401,077, which represented 19.9 percent of the population aged 12-69.

Hunter numbers bottomed out in 2005 at 256,522, or 9.4 percent of the age-eligible population, and have hovered slightly above that number since.

The ODFW in recent years has launched a series of incentives to draw young hunters into the fold, such as first-timer tags for better access to deer and elk during holiday hunts and even a youth-mentor program that allows kids to hunt with adults without the normally required hunter-education certificate.

The result is that resident hunting license sales have risen slightly each of the past three years, reaching above 260,000 in 2008 — the highest since 2004.

Clem said he would like to hear from hunters about how they can build upon those recent successes and remove barriers that keep frustrated hunters at home. Topics could range from reduced public access to public and commercial timberlands to reduced camping opportunities during deer and elk seasons.

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