Illegal hunters pose a threat to the deer of Northwest Oregon

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Oregon State Trooper Roger Reid uses a metal detector to identify evidence of poaching like bullets and arrowheads.The day starts out at the Oregon State Police office in North Plains, but Trooper Roger Reid wastes no time. He rushes off to Vernonia following reports of poached deer. Reid hikes to a deer carcass, searching it for bullets or arrowheads with a metal detector, then inspects locked fences in secluded areas where people have been riding ATVs. He picks through trash left illegally near a swimming hole. He removes an ear tag from sheep and goat carcasses to investigate their indecorous dumping. He treks to Timber outside of Gales Creek to check hidden cameras then ends his day talking to a landowner worried about people hunting illegally on his property.

There is no typical day for Reid, but there’s never a dull moment.

Assigned to the fish and wildlife division, one of Reid’s central tasks is to combat poaching of black-tailed deer — a growing problem.

It isn’t his only task, though. Reid is responsible for policing all issues with hunting, trapping and marine practices. Handling habitats and complaints are also on the list of his duties.

Keeping up proves difficult.

“Who knows what will happen,” said Reid. “It’s constant.”

He can cover hundreds of miles in one day and still have a full workday mapped out for tomorrow.

Reid enforces Oregon Fish and Wildlife Law. His main stomping ground is Washington County, but he is also in charge of patrolling parts of Multnomah, Yamhill, Tillamook, Clatsop and Columbia counties.

“Yes, we wish we had 100 more troopers, but we are attempting to do the best we can with the resources we have,” Reid said. “Poaching is a large problem statewide.”

A few weeks ago, Reid arrested a man for spotlighting deer at night near Brown’s Camp off the Wilson River Highway; the other day he caught a man hunting on Stimson Lumber, Co. property who couldn’t produce his tags — just a few of the cases Reid runs into on almost a daily basis.

In a 2008 ODFW study, illegal kill information compiled from investigations of deer poaching related to black-tailed deer, found only west of the Cascades, showed an average of 741 annual poaching kills per year from 1996 to 2005 with expected increases since then. State troopers log anywhere between 9,000 and 15,000 hours per year working on cases related specifically to black-tailed NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Oregon State Trooper Roger Reid investigates a site west of Forest Grove that is used for shooting and target practice.

Poaching not only has negative effects on deer, but also the ODFW, which relies on hunting tags to fund its operations.

With fewer deer in the woods and more Oregonians living in cities, fewer hunters decamp for the kill.

“The overall state population is increasing at a moderate rate, but hunting participation rates are declining. Oregon’s population is becoming more urbanized, with a greater number of alternative leisure activities,” according to the ODFW.

For the first time in 20 years, Forest Grove resident, hunter and Fire Marshal David Nemeyer isn’t sure if he will go hunting this year. He is tired of coming home empty-handed.

Between 1979 and 1994, legal hunting peaked, with an average of 147,000 people hunting black-tailed deer each year. The number of tags sold for the general firearm deer season has declined through the past decade, though, perhaps partly because declining deer populations make it harder to successfully hunt deer and partly because of the state’s increasingly urbanized population.

A third of the ODFW’s budget comes from the sale of mandatory fishing and hunting licenses, which bring in about $99.73 million each year.

The 2012-price of a hunting license is $29.50 and deer tags are $24.50 for a resident. Out of state hunters pay more, $140.50 for a license and $375.50 for deer tags.

In 2007, the ODFW sold 200,537 deer tags; they sold 183,432 in 2011.

“I hope it all never dwindles away to nothing,” said Nemeyer.

Tipline is a lifeline

Reid relies heavily on information from citizens in his front-line fight against poaching.

He encourages people to call with any information they may have and any time they witness something they may think is suspicious. No detail is insignificant. And no call is frivolous. But time is of the essence. Fresh tips are more likely to lead to an arrest.

Reid works closely with Washington County Deputy District Attorney Andrew Freeman, who prosecutes criminal cases of poaching.

“We really count on people doing the right thing. Our patrols need that help,” Freeman said. “We are protecting a community resource — something that belongs to all of us.”

Freeman sees all levels of poaching cases, from the simply criminal to the heinous.

In 2010, Freeman prosecuted four men who went out several nights a week, often drunk, and shot at any animal they could find and left them for dead. Sometimes the shots caused instant death, sometimes it took several days for the animals to succumb to their wounds.

Common punishments for criminal poachers include a suspended hunting license, community service, forfeiture of the poaching weapon, restitution fines and probation. But depending on the severity, certain poachers can get jail time.

In 2011, Freeman organized a case against Brian Miller, owner of Northwest Hunting Adventures in Lake Oswego, who police cited for killing mule deer, antelope, cow elk and several other animals in Clatsop, Tillamook, Washington, Multnomah, Linn, Gilliam, Douglas and Harney counties. Freeman organized the case and prosecuted in Washington County, and Miller ended up with 30 days in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

Miller’s may have been a severe case, but poaching itself is common.

At the August meeting of the Oregon Hunters Association Tualatin Valley Chapter at the Elks Lodge in Forest Grove, chapter president Leslie Shaw asked the roughly 35 members at the meeting what could be done to improve hunting in Oregon. Their answers? Improved habitats and stricter regulations on poaching.

Many of the members have witnessed illegal hunting practices, including hunting at night or without tags, with a variety of illegal weapons or by snaring.

Shaw said several chapter members want harsher punishments for poachers. “If people want more, I think that’s great that’s the community standard,” said Freeman, but for now he is doing what he can.

Because poachers are difficult to catch and wildlife laws are not as commonly known as many others, prosecuting poachers can be a challenge.

Shaw, who used to hunt in Timber but gave up after seven unsuccessful seasons, has found it is often dangerous to have a conversation with NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Property owner Terry Howell discusses the threat of poachers on his land with Trooper Roger Reid.

Terry Howell, of Howell’s Tree Farm in Gales Creek, agrees.

“It gets more dangerous as the years go by,” said Howell, who said illegal hunting on his property is a problem every year, especially during hunting season. His land has already been host to several trespassers in the last few months, hunting without his permission, taking down his ‘no trespassing’ and ‘no hunting’ signs, and shooting locks off his gates.

Reid gets several complaints each week from property owners with illegal hunters on their land, and he said it’s common for hunters to remove signs to make it easier to feign innocence, but that won’t hold up in court. He suggests painting a ring around trees every few hundred feet to mark property lines and putting signs up high where possible.

Disease, predators also a threat

Humans are not the only predators deer have to worry about.

A 2008 study conducted by the ODFW on a management plan for black-tail deer concluded coyotes, bobcats, cougars, black bears and domestic dogs were major predators.

Since Measure 18 passed in 1994 forbidding hunters to use dogs to hunt bears and cougars, there are likely more of these predators. Northwestern Oregon has fewer bears and cougars than other regions of the state, according to ODFW’s Don Vandebergh, but deer populations are going down anyway.

Disease could be another explanation in addition to habitat loss. Deer Hair Loss Syndrome and Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease, among others, have negatively impacted deer in and around Washington County. Deer with DHLS have unusually high infestations of lice, which results in hair discoloration, hair loss, weight loss, diarrhea and lethargy. It can also cause death, usually from exposure.

Vandebergh is working with his team to study black-tailed deer populations from Forest Grove to the coast over the next few years, hoping to get a more accurate and current count of the deer and gathering enough evidence to come up with effective solutions for some of the animal’s greatest problems — habitat loss, disease and illegal hunting practices.

“We are going to see what kind of habitats they’re using and how they’re moving around,” he said.

The black-tail deer management project is ongoing, and “we are trying very hard to work and identify things we can do. It will take time and patience,” said Don Whittaker of the ODFW.

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