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ODFW update cougar, sturgeon status

02/14/16 -- The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission received informational briefings on a variety of fish and wildlife-related topics today during their meeting in Tigard. ODFW staff updated commissioners on the process for the review of state’s cougar plan, status of the sturgeon population, and a new wildlife area in the Coquille Valley of Southwest Oregon.

The Commission also heard an update on several projects including black-tailed deer research in western Oregon, a hunter-ATV-elk-deer interactions study and wolf-cougar research in northeast Oregon; and mule deer research in South-Central Oregon and at the USFS Starkey Experimental Forest near La Grande.

“I really appreciate being able to get these summaries,” said Commissioner Holly Akenson. “Even though we’re not making any decisions today it’s important that we have this background of knowledge.”

Additional updates presented to the Commission included the following:

Cougar Management Plan Review Process: Oregon’s Cougar Management Plan outlines how ODFW manages Oregon’s estimated 6,000 cougars with a focus on maintaining a viable, healthy cougar population while preventing conflict with livestock, pets and public safety and managing cougar impacts on ungulate populations. ODFW staff are beginning to review the Cougar Plan and will invite stakeholders to sit on a panel at the April 22 meeting to discuss it before commissioners. A draft updated plan is scheduled to be available in October for further review and public input, with final consideration scheduled for the Dec. 2 commission meeting.

Coquille Valley Wildlife Area Plan: ODFW acquired this 580-acre wetland property in Coos County in April 2013. Key goals of the proposed plan are to enhance habitat for migratory birds and fish and increase wildlife recreational opportunities for the public including hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. Wildlife Area Manager Stuart Love gave commissioners their first look at the wildlife area’s draft management plan, which will be submitted to the commission for approval in April.

“I think this is a great project that is of interest to the general public,” said Commissioner Gregory J. Wolley, who encouraged ODFW staff to create an online resource that parties can use to track project’s progress.

Pacific Salmon Treaty: Commissioners also learned about Oregon’s involvement the international Pacific Salmon Treaty in a presentation by ODFW’s Fish Division. Chris Kern, deputy administrator of the fish division, walked commissioners through the history, structure and function of the treaty as well as its importance to salmon management.

Sturgeon population update: The commission received a population update for white sturgeon on the lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers. The report detailed changes in sturgeon population abundance, composition, and productivity. Tucker Jones, manager of ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program, said that while the sturgeon population is below management objectives, the population is not in any great danger.

Jones noted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently directed its staff to consult with ODFW about closing the Columbia to catch-and-release sturgeon fishing.

“I don’t think we need to do that,” said Jones. “While the sturgeon population is not where we’d like to see it, this is not a population that is in danger. We’ve already taken pretty serious actions in response to some of the things that have been happening with sturgeon. We’re already erring on the side of protecting these fish.”

In another matter, Chairman Michael Finley asked for a moment of silence Police Sergeant Jason Goodding, who was recently shot and killed in the line of duty and whose memorial service was taking place at the same time as the commission meeting.

“We are proud of our relationship with the police and we hate to see the loss of one of our partners,” Finley said.

The Commission is the policy-making body for fish and wildlife issues in the state and it usually meets monthly. The next meeting is scheduled for March 18 at ODFW headquarters in Salem.

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