Oregon Ranks Dead Last in Public Hunting Land Access

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Oregon Ranks Dead Last in Public Hunting Land Access

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January 6, 2015 – by Dominic Aiello, President

Oregon Ranks Dead Last in Public Hunting Land Access

Public land access ranking by state

Figure 1

Despite the fact that Oregon is 53% federal public land, Oregon ranks dead last in accessibility of all hunting land (Figure 1).  Once you get over the shock you may be asking yourself, “Ok, but what does this mean?” or “why does this matter?”  Both are fair questions, and here is the answer…

In a study conducted by Responsive Management under a grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, access was the top rated cause of hunter dissatisfaction among active hunters out of a possible 25 causes of dissatisfaction posed to hunters: 46% of hunters said that not enough access took away from their hunting satisfaction (1995). Twenty-nine percent of ex-hunters interviewed said that not enough access influenced their decision not to hunt.

A Responsive Management study conducted in 2002 of licensed hunters nationwide found that 22% of hunters reported access to public lands as one of the two most important issues facing hunting today[.]

This makes it very clear – access to public land is critically important for hunter retention. With that said, the Umpqua National Forest Travel Management Plan is currently being updated to comply with a 2005 travel rule.

Umpqua National Forest Travel Management Alternatives

Umpqua National Forest Travel Management Plan “Alternatives”
There are 6 options being considered. Depending on which option is chosen, it could severely impact access for the general public.

The Oregon Outdoor Council believes in a balanced approach which protects public land users group’s access and gives consideration to potential wildlife impacts. Therefore, we must consider the impact road densities have on wildlife. Data from the Starkey Experimental Forest (eastern Oregon) has found that:

Elk were generally farther from open roads during daytime, but moved closer to roads during nighttime (Wisdom 1998, Ager et al. 2003). This pattern was also observed in South Dakota (Millspaugh 1999). In addition, both daily movements and size of home ranges of elk may decrease when open road density decreases. These reductions could lead to energetic benefits that translate into increased fat reserves or productivity (Cole et al. 1997). On a larger scale, entire ranges can be abandoned if disturbance from traffic on roads and the associated habitat loss and fragmentation exceed some threshold level. The ultimate effect of displacement of elk, by motorized traffic as well as other disturbances, is a temporary or permanent reduction in effective habitat for elk. Concomitant with loss of effective habitat are reduced local and regional populations (Forman et al. 2003).

However, data also shows that hunter harvest decreases as open road density decreases;

Elk vulnerability to mortality from hunter harvest, both legal and illegal, increases as open road density increases. Many factors affect elk vulnerability to hunter harvest, but the evidence is compelling that survival rates of elk are reduced in areas with higher road density (Leege 1984, Leptich and Zager 1991, Unsworth et al. 1993, Gratson and Whitman 2000a, Weber et al. 2000, Hayes et al. 2002, McCorquodale et al. 2003). Closing roads offers more security to elk and may decrease hunter densities (fewer hunters may be willing to hunt without vehicle access)

Two other important factors for consideration are noted;

Also needed is a better understanding of the effectiveness of road closures; examples abound about the lack of effectiveness of closures on public lands, especially when few resources are made available for enforcement (Havlick 2002, Wertz et al. 2004). More than half of 802 road closures inventoried on National Forests in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming were found to be ineffective, even after accounting for administrative use (Havlick 2002).

A final cautionary note: much of what has been learned about elk and roads to date has resulted from field studies that had no experimental component and thus no sound basis from which to infer cause-effect relations. 

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Giving these factors equal consideration we can say with certainty that;

  • Oregon already lacks adequate access to public forest
  • Access to public forest is critical to hunter retention
  • Without proper enforcement, which is already lacking in Oregon, road closures have not proven to be effective in reducing impacts to wildlife

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 9.16.36 AMTherefore, we believe an approach that further restricts public access and further exacerbates declining hunter participation without proven benefits to wildlife in western Oregon is unjustified. As such, we believe the only clear choice is Alternative 5.

Many of our partner organizations agree, such as the Oregon United Sporting Dogs Association:

We [Oregon United Sporting Dogs Association] do not support any road closures of any kind on public land. With that said, since we are being told one of the alternatives will have to be chosen, we support Alternative 5. – David Walker, President

Please click here (or copy and paste the email address), comments-pacificnorthwest-umpqua@fs.fed.us, to send comments in support of Alternative 5. Be sure to put “Travel Management Plan” in the email subject line.

Happy Hunting,
Dominic Aiello Oregon outdoor Council
Dominic Aiello, President