Bittle tackles Columbia in first meeting

    The head of Medford-based Willie Boats will get tossed right into the fire of Columbia River fish politics when he takes his seat today on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

    In Jim Bittle's first meeting as a commissioner, the commission's first order of business will be to tackle long-term reform to the Columbia's recreation and non-tribal commercial fishing seasons, allocations and gear restrictions.

    The agenda summary alone covers 53 pages and it lays out a proposed blueprint for moving forward after decades of disputes, lawsuits and clashes over recreational and commercial interests, as well as wild salmon protections, conservation and impacts of the federal Endangered Species Act.

    "I'll be cautious and a bit nervous going into the biggest agenda item that the state probably will face this year," Bittle said.

    The commission sets fish and wildlife policies for the state and oversees the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    Bittle, 62, of Central Point was nominated in early December by Gov. Kate Brown to fill the seat vacated since spring when former state Sen. Jason Atkinson stepped down after his four-year term.

    Bittle was confirmed Dec. 19 by the Oregon Senate.

    Though this is Bittle's first meeting, there is not a formal swearing-in process for him before he serves, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

    The new commissioner receives a letter of appointment from the governor that includes an oath of office document that has to be signed, notarized and returned to the governor, she said.

    Bittle has been at Willie Boats for 32 years and president the past 10 years, and this is his first foray into public service.

    His seat on the seven-member commission represents Oregon's 2nd Congressional District.

    His appointment means three of the seven commissioners have strong Southern Oregon ties.

    Commission Chair Michael Finley of Medford is the former superintendent of Yosemite, Everglades and Yellowstone national parks and holds the at-large seat assigned to Western Oregon. Bob Webber of Port Orford was a longtime Medford lawyer who represents the 4th Congressional District on the commission.

    Bittle was appointed president of Willie Boats by its founder, Willie Illingworth, in November 2006. Illingworth, who was a pioneer in the aluminum driftboat and powerboating industry that has made the Rogue Valley its Pacific Northwest hub, died the following March of cancer.

    Bittle's long-standing reputation within the sportfishing industry gained Bittle strong constituent support for his nomination, which was opposed by Eastern Oregon cattle interests unhappy that no one from Eastern Oregon would be on the current commission.

    Spring bear tags selling fast

    Tags for the spring black bear hunt in southwest Oregon are on pace to be sold out by early February.

    The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that 3,100 of the 4,400 tags available for the hunt already have been sold.

    The southwest Oregon hunt is the only spring black bear hunt sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and it regularly sells out before the hunt, which runs April 1 through May 31 in five southwest Oregon counties.

    The tags have been available at point-of-sale license outlets statewide since Dec. 1, when 2016 hunting licenses and tags became available.

    The rest of Oregon's spring bear hunts are controlled hunts, and applications for the various hunts are due Feb. 10. Applications can be made at point-of-sale locations and online at

    — Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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