After 38 years, Oregon wildlife regulators want to make permanent a program that provides hunting tags to landowners who provide habitat for elk, deer and antelope.
The landowner preference program was first implemented in 1982 and has since been modified and extended several times, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife now believes it’s time to eliminate its 2022 sunset date.
The agency has asked lawmakers to permanently implement the landowner preference program by passing House Bill 2068, which is supported by organizations representing farmers, ranchers, hunters and timber interests.
“We have a lot of members who rely on landowner preference program. It has been an excellent program for our folks. Farmers and ranchers provide extensive amounts of fish and wildlife habitat across the state,” said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
The number of controlled hunt tags that the public can draw for big game is limited each year, which highlighted the lack of tags specific to parcels of private property, said Doug Cottam, ODFW’s wildlife division administrator.
“That creates the possibility that landowners who are providing habitat for those animals may not be able to hunt on their own property,” Cottam said. “That’s the reason the landowner preference program was developed in the first place.”
Landowners who don’t hunt can transfer some or all of their preference tags to others, depending on the sex and species of big game, he said.
In the early years of the program, negotiations over how it would work necessitated sunset dates to update the rules, Cottam said. Though ODFW now thinks the program should be made permanent, it can still be revisited during future legislative sessions.
“The program seems to be set up now and working very well,” said Al Elkins, lobbyist for the Oregon Hunters Association.
Tags provide compensation for timberland owners, who sustain about $4 million in replanting costs a year from big game eating seedlings, said Kyle Williams, forest protection director for the Oregon Forest & Industries Council.
A large population of elk in Wallowa County resides primarily on private property and causes substantial damage to cropland and haystacks, said Tom Birkmaier, a rancher in the area testifying for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
The landowner preference program provides ranchers with flexibility, he said.
“It can be used to add revenue for some farms and ranchers,” Birkmaier said. “I trade fence work and other ranch work for these tags.”