The Oregon Legislature is mulling a bill that would offer increased sport-hunting opportunities for people who turn in and help prosecute wildlife poachers, yet hunters themselves are questioning whether it's the right approach to curb illegal wildlife killing.
House Bill 3158 would allow the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer, for instance, a guarantee to purchase a tough-to-get Rocky Mountain elk tag in an Eastern Oregon hunting unit for someone who helps Oregon State Police capture and convict an elk poacher in that same hunting unit.
The bill is being pushed as a complement to the Turn In Poachers (TIP) program managed by the Oregon Hunters Association that pays cash rewards for similar assistance.
The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte and Rep. Sal Esquival of Medford and it received its first public hearing Thursday in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
McLane, whose district includes eastern Jackson County and a sliver of northeast Medford, said he drafted the bill after learning from a hunting outfitter friend that Utah has a similar program to help curb poaching.
"For a lot of the hunters, getting a tough-to-get tag is actually more valuable than a $500 reward," McLane said.
"Poachers are cheaters," McLane said. "They're criminals. No one likes them."
However, OHA leaders, who are always looking for ways to curb poaching, say such a program could bring unintentional pitfalls.
Paul Donheffner, the former director of the Oregon State Marine Board who is chair of OHA's legislative committee, said the bill as written contains a broad definition of wildlife that makes meting out more tags potentially problematic, particularly in hunts with very limited tag numbers.
In the case of bighorn sheep, for instance, ODFW offers only a handful of tags in this once-in-a-lifetime hunting opportunity, and "there may be reasons why you don't want to offer" an extra tag.
"The devil's in the details," Donheffner said. "We appreciate the effort to come up with tools to combat poaching. "We're just not sure it's the right tool."
McLane said he may consider amending the bill to drop the hunting tag opportunity and instead offer "preference points," which are part of an ODFW system to give hunters unsuccessful at drawing hard-to-get hunting tags a greater shot at future success.
Donheffner said OHA leadership has always been leery of using preference points as "candy for different kinds of things and different kinds of people."
Duane Dungannon, secretary of the Medford-based OHA, said the association is interested in adding to the bill mandatory restitution paid to the TIP program by poachers convicted with the help of a TIP reward.
Prosecutors across Oregon are inconsistent in requesting restitution to TIP, which is funded largely through restitution covering the amount of reward paid in the defendant's particular case, Dungannon said.
The OHA pays out about $13,000 a year from TIP, which allows informants to remain anonymous yet still receive payments.
Capt. Jeff Samuels, who heads the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division, which partners with the OHA in TIP, said 66 informants were paid TIP money involving 62 cases in Oregon during the past two years.