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|Drought conditions in Oregon
Source: US Drought Monitor
Yellow is Abnormally Dry
Tan is Moderate Drought
Orange is Severe Drought
Red is Extreme Drought
Conditions for big game and hunters are looking much better than they were a year ago.
Back in August of last year, 100 percent of Oregon was in severe drought and 50 percent in the even worse category of “extreme drought.” While parts of NE and SE Oregon are still experiencing a severe drought, conditions have improved across the state.
“We had normal winter precipitation and a wet spring,” says Autumn Larkins, ODFW Assistant District Wildlife Biologist for Harney County. “Water availability is much better this year.”
It’s a similar story in northeast Oregon. “The weather is much better suited to deer and elk production as opposed to last year’s record drought,” said Mark Kirsch, ODFW District Wildlife Biologist in Umatilla County.
The increased water also better distribute animals during hunting season, rather than cluster them around fewer water sources. It should help distribute early season hunters, too—especially those pronghorn and bowhunters who crowded around the few water holes to set hunting blinds in recent years. The conflict between hunters over blind placement has gotten so bad that ODFW and BLM recently put together a flyer reminding hunters of the rules and good etiquette
Now wildlife biologists are crossing their fingers for rains in September. These early fall rains green up forage and help big game put on weight, so animals head into breeding season in good body condition and fit to reproduce.
Despite the increased moisture, fire is still a threat throughout Oregon. Most forestlands will have restrictions (such as no campfires) during fire season, and some private lands will be closed to public access entirely. See ODF’s Fire Restrictions Page for more information and the latest Corporate Closure List for private land information. Check with the land manager (US Forest Service, BLM, ODF) for public lands information.
Remember it’s your responsibility to know before you go.
Looking for elk on Saddle Mt.
-Photo by Ken Sofich
Regulation changes for bowhunters
There are bag limit changes this year for North Coast, Minam, and Desolation archery hunters.
Bowhunters hunting elk in the early general bow season may no longer take an antlerless elk in the Saddle Mt, Scappoose and Wilson units. For 2016, the bag limit is one bull in Scappoose and Wilson and one 3 pt+ bull only in Saddle Mt.
In the Minam and Desolation units, general season bow elk hunters have a bag limit of one elk this year (formerly bull only).
Finally, lighted arrow nocks are now legal for bowhunters. Lighted nocks increase visibility of the arrow and are helpful for following the flight of and retrieving arrows.
Know before you go: Check fire restrictions before hunting
As always, the fall hunting season starts in hot, dry weather and fire restrictions throughout the state of Oregon. Hunters are responsible for knowing before they go what restrictions are in effect. Oregon Department of Forestry has a great interactive map http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/Fire/Pages/Restrictions.aspx Click on any area in the map to see a list of restrictions in areas protected by ODF. Click within federal public lands to find out the land manager and contact info.
The most common restrictions are:
- Campfires are either prohibited or only allowed in approved campgrounds in many areas.
- Smoking and off road driving is also prohibited in most areas, which includes motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
- Vehicles must have either a gallon of water or a fully charged and operational 2½-pound fire extinguisher and shovel (except when travelling on state highways or county roads).
- ATVs must have a charged and operational 2½ pound fire extinguisher.
Population estimates for Oregon big game
Oregon’s big game populations are mostly stable. Statewide estimates are: 74,227 Rocky Mtn elk, 60,057 Roosevelt elk, 226,775 mule deer, 6,372 cougar and about 25,000 black bears.
Noticeably missing from this list are black-tailed deer. Oregon has not had a reliable way to estimate the species many refer to as “Pacific ghosts,” thanks to their secretive nature and dense habitat. Counting blacktails has only gotten more difficult in recent years, as logging declines have made forests even denser, making the deer harder to see in spotlight surveys. But that’s about to change.
ODFW researchers are using a new technique to estimate black-tailed deer numbers based on DNA analysis of deer scat. Researchers and dogs collect all the scat in a certain area and land ownership type (national forest, industrial timber land, small forest holdings) and develop a density estimate based on ownership type. Deer on different ownerships are also trapped and fitted with radio collars to show survival rates, causes of death, and home range size. All this information will eventually be extrapolated into population estimates throughout Western Oregon. Read more about the study
Mule deer collaring
Another large research project is continuing in eastern Oregon for mule deer, where 650 GPS collars have been deployed to track their movements and habitat use. One major objective of this research is to see how herd movements actually line up with wildlife management unit boundaries.
“In some places, deer movements have come as a surprise,” says Phil Milburn, District Wildlife Biologist in Malheur County. “We’re seeing a wintering deer population disperse into as many as seven different summer ranges.”
The data also reveals some tips for hunters pursuing mule deer this fall. “Mule deer select for more diverse habitat,” Milburn notes. “They tend to avoid the highest elevation forest habitat unless there is a burn or logging activity. They might use dense national forestland to pass through, but spend more time in disturbed habitat like brush fields and old fires at mid-elevation.”
Wolves are present in Oregon
ODFW is monitoring almost 20 areas of known wolf activity, mostly in northeast Oregon and four in southwest Oregon. Wolves may also occur in central Oregon and the Cascades. See the Wolf web page for the latest information.
Late last year, wolves were delisted from the state Endangered Species List. Wolves remain protected under the state’s Wolf Management Plan and no take is allowed, except in defense of human life or by livestock producers in certain situations in the eastern third of Oregon. Wolves also remain on the federal ESA west of Hwys 395-78-95.
Oregon has not seen any conflict or human safety problems between people and wolves, but there are some tips online on how to avoid problems. This flyer also has tips on recognizing wolf sign, differentiating between wolves vs coyotes and protecting dogs from wolves.
ODFW appreciates any information about wolf sightings or encounters from hunters. Use the online wolf reporting form to share this information with wildlife managers.
ODFW is closely watching both wolf and big game populations. ODFW has not seen negative impacts from wolves requiring big game hunting tags to be reduced.
Besides annual surveys of wolves and big game, OSU and ODFW are working together on a wolf-cougar research project looking at competitive interactions and prey selection between wolves and cougars in the Mt Emily unit.