Landers: Plenty of hunters still need to report

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Fines and incentives have boosted hunter compliance with mandatory reporting programs to help states manage game populations, but a good share of hunters still don’t voluntarily help the cause.

It’s not a shining moment for sportsmen who can’t take a few minutes to file a report by phone, mail or online that helps survey the wildlife they expect the state to tend.

The requirement – managed differently in Idaho, Washington and Oregon – applies to hunters whether they were successful or not, or even if they didn’t get out to hunt.

In Oregon, nearly 34,000 hunters still face a $25 penalty for failing to tell the state how they did in their 2012 deer and elk hunts.

The state has been trying since 2007 to get the hunter reports to build better statistics on hunting success and harvest rates, which are used to set the numbers of deer and elk tags.

Fewer than 40 percent of hunters reported results when there were no penalties or when incentives were offered. That’s not enough for sound data, biologists say.

In 2012, the state adopted the $25 penalty, and the reporting rate jumped to 85 percent.

That still leaves a lot of hunters facing the extra charge when they buy their licenses the next year. The holders of about 29,000 deer tags and 17,000 elk tags didn’t report, out of 298,000 deer and elk tags sold.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department would collect $840,000 in late fees if all the hunters, who didn’t report, paid up.

“But I wish we didn’t get a dime,” Ron Anglin, administrator of the Wildlife Division, said in an Associated Press story. “I wish people just reported.”

In Washington, 65-70 percent of hunters have been filing their mandatory hunting reports since the state enacted a $10 fine a few years ago, said Dave Ware, Fish and Wildlife Department big game manager. The fine must be paid before they can buy another state hunting license.

“However, less than 30 percent pay the fine the next year because many of them don’t hunt every year anyway,” he said.

“Based on the fees we collect, I would estimate that the number is closer to 15-20 percent pay a fine. We have been collecting fees from 25,000 to 30,000 hunters each year. We use some of the fees to conduct a follow-up phone survey, which dramatically improves the precision of our harvest estimate.

“In addition, we try to call everyone over 70 years of age who had difficulty reporting either of the two previous years, before the deadline, to help them report. We have been doing that for three years and the number who did not successfully report the previous year has declined from about 5,000 the first year to 1,000 last year.”

Washington hunters should file their reports before Jan. 31 or immediately after their seasons end, Ware said.

Washington hunters who file their hunting reports online or by phone by Jan. 10 are automatically entered into a drawing for a special incentive hunting permit. The nine special permits include any-elk permits and either-sex deer permits.

In Idaho, about 49 percent of the deer, elk and pronghorn tag reports are filed by hunters on their own, said Bruce Ackerman, Idaho Fish and Game Department biometrician.

A small fine was associated with mandatory reporting enacted in 2001, but it was dropped because of the cost and headaches involved with collecting the fine before hunters could buy another license, he said.

Although hunters are “required” to file a report on these hunts within 10 days after harvesting, or within 10 days after the end of the hunt if they did not hunt, Idaho holds no hammer over those who don’t comply.

“We sell about 240,000 hunting permits a year to about 160,000 people for deer, elk and pronghorn,” he said, noting that reports are filed on roughly 115,000 tags.

“We’re getting about 2,000 reports a day now, but when that slacks off we’ll randomly select about 50,000 hunters who have not filed and try to contact them by phone in December and January.”

At a cost of about $50,000 for contract calling, the agency will reach about a third of that pool of 50,000 hunters.

“From that we estimate what the others who did not file must have done,” Ackerman said. “We’re satisfied with the system mathematically.”

But the system counts on hunters to file reports. It’s part of the game plan.

“The sooner we get the answers, the sooner I can get the 2013 estimates calculated,” Ackerman said.

“That helps the biologists recommend fall 2014 hunting regulations in March 2014, and helps hunters decide which controlled hunts to apply for in June 2014.

“We feel that we have an important obligation to do a very good job at monitoring the harvest of deer, elk, and pronghorn. It is my biggest job in the year.”

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