The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission met in Bend Friday to vote on whether to prohibit organized contest hunts of unregulated game animals, mainly coyotes, across the state. The measure passed, nearly unanimously.
The ban applies only to land where the commission has regulatory authority.
The room was busy for the vote, with more people attending virtually on zoom. Despite the number of speakers, the board expressed that specific rural communities may feel unheard due to a lack of voices opposing the ban.
“This was the step we could take. It’s not the entire thing, but it’s an important step,” Commission Chair Mary Wahl said.
Before voting, the board heard testimony from 43 members of the public, 42 of which favored the ban.
“It does make me incredibly concerned that we have not heard the other side of this story,” Commissioner Becky Hatfield Hyde said. “When communities stop representing themselves in rooms like this, that is not a win. That might be a message of ‘no one’s going to listen to me anyway, so why even say anything?’”
All members voted in favor of the ban except one.
ODFW can only regulate contests on public land, meaning these contests can continue to take place on private land. That language led Commissioner Leslie King to abstain from the vote.
“What I’m struggling with is, are we just going to create more animosity, more rural versus urban, more of everything, and at the end of it, what have we done?” King said. “People can still have these darn contests, even though we’ve done all of this stuff, and I’m struggling to see what this solves.”
The Humane Society’s Oregon director Kelly Peterson testified in support of the ban. To her, the overwhelming support proved Oregon is finally playing catch-up to most of its neighboring states, who have already passed similar bans.
“Today is a step in the right direction to ensure that these practices that are unsporting, they’re a waste of wildlife and they’re cruel,” she said. “They don’t have a place here in Oregon.”
Voices against the measure claim the ban goes against their way of life and a threat to protecting livestock.
The vote puts an end to nearly a year-long battle since organizations around the country filed a petition to ban the practice.
Oregon becomes the ninth state to ban wildlife killing contests, including neighbors Washington and California.
Here is the full announcement from ODFW:
BEND, Ore.—The Fish and Wildlife Commission voted five to one abstention to prohibit contests for the taking of coyotes and other unprotected mammals today after hearing testimony from more than 40 people at their meeting in Bend.
The rules adopted today are in line with the Commission’s regulatory authority. They establish a definition for contests and make it unlawful to organize, sponsor, conduct, or participate in a contest that has the objective of killing unprotected mammals native to Oregon.
The Commission has the authority to regulate the take of unprotected mammals. But state statutes adopted by the Oregon State Legislature classify coyotes and some other unprotected mammals as predatory animals when they are causing agricultural damage on private land. (Predatory animals are defined in statute and do not include carnivores like bears, cougars and wolves which are classified as game mammals.)
Under state statute, the Fish and Wildlife Commission does not have the authority to regulate the take of predatory animals. Statutes state “the Commission shall not prescribe limitations on the times, places or amounts for the taking of predatory animal” (ORS 496.162) and “nothing in the wildlife laws is intended to deny the right of any person to control predatory animals” (ORS 610.060). Another statute, ORS 610.105, also recognizes that landowners or their agents can control predatory animals on their property.
While acknowledging that the Commission does not have the regulatory authority to prohibit contests in all situations, Chair Wahl described the new rules as “a step we can take that is within our authority.”
The Commission first considered prohibiting these contests back in December 2022, when they denied a petition while directing ODFW staff to develop rules to stop coyote killing contests in a way that is consistent with their regulatory authority.
The Commission also took the following actions today:
Access & Habitat (A&H) program: Approved funding for two projects that improve road closure enforcement on existing A&H access areas.
Tillamook cockle bay clam intertidal commercial harvest quota: Adopted an annual catch limit of 90,000 pounds, which is based on a recent stock estimate. An annual landing cap has been in place since 2021 after effort and harvest increased dramatically in 2019 and 2020.
Terminal ocean salmon fisheries in nearshore waters adjacent to Elk/Sixes Rivers: In a split 5-1 vote, reinstated a limited commercial and recreational terminal ocean fishery for Chinook salmon in this area where a “bubble” fishery traditionally occurs, but has not occurred since 2018 due to low Chinook returns. The forecasted return for the Elk River is improved this year, and the fishery will provide a boost to the local port and economy, particularly after ocean Chinook fishing was closed in this area for most of the summer to protect Chinook returning to the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers in California. The season will run Nov. 1-30, and the daily bag limit for recreational anglers in the bubble fishery is one Chinook. Regulations should be available online late next week. A bubble fishery off the Chetco River was not recommended by ODFW staff this year.
Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP) Advisory Committee (STAC) rules: Adopted new administrative rules for STEP as the program’s rules were last updated in 1986. Revisions were necessary for STEP to adapt to listings under the Endangered Species Act and align with policies and plans that govern the management of fisheries resources in Oregon (including the Native Fish Conservation Policy and Hatchery Management Policy) that were not in place in 1986. The new rules do not reduce or diminish the ability of volunteers to participate in STEP projects that restore Oregon’s salmon and trout resources.
2024 Big Game Regulations and tag numbers: Adopted 2024 Big Game Regulations as proposed by staff. There are few major changes from 2023 regulations beyond some hunts being deleted and new ones being added. Tag numbers will also be similar to 2023.
Minam Land Acquisition: Approved Phase II of the acquisition to add 10,964 acres to the Minam River Wildlife Area, including almost six miles of the Minam River and adjacent Minam River trail. The primary funding will come from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation private donations ($3.5M) and a USDA Forest Legacy Program grant ($9.7M). The area (about 30 miles northeast of La Grande in Wallowa and Union counties) is of high conservation and recreation value and will allow hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and other outdoor activities. As with other state wildlife areas, ODFW will pay fire protection fees and “in-lieu” of property taxes on the property to maintain county tax revenue. “What a gift to Oregon and a testament to the hard work of many partners,” said Commissioner Hatfield Hyde about the purchase. “And thank you for keeping it a working landscape which means a lot to the local community.”