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OHA: Decades of service to hunters/wildlife

By Jim Yuskavitch
01/09/14 – It’s been 30 years since the birth of the Oregon Hunters Association, whose roots are firmly planted in its commitment to conserve Oregon’s valuable wildlife resources and preserve the state’s hunting tradition. OHA’s beginnings actually go back to 1980 when Wallowa County ranchers, who wanted to reduce the number of elk competing for forage with livestock on public lands, pushed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer more elk tags than was desirable from a conservation and management standpoint.

Concerned hunters organized a meeting in central Oregon in 1981 to discuss what they could do about it, which attracted about 100 people. A follow-up letter writing and lobbying campaign produced the results they were after, and the elk tags in Wallowa County were reduced to more appropriate levels and ensured that management objectives for elk were not cut back too much.

Another subject discussed at that first meeting was the idea of an organization to look out for the interests of Oregon’s hunters and hunt-able wildlife, and the subsequent success championing Wallowa County elk herds served to demonstrate how valuable such an organization could be. In 1983, the Oregon Hunters Association was formed with an initial membership of 1,700 hunters whose mission was “to provide abundant hunt-able wildlife resources in Oregon for present and future generations, enhancement of wildlife habitat and protection of hunters rights.”

For the past 30 years, OHA has been pursuing that mission with enthusiasm, and today the organization boasts 10,000 members in 27 chapters in all regions of the state.

OHA chapters have made installing and maintaining water sources annual projects.
OHA chapters have made installing and maintaining water sources annual projects.

OHA has made a number of important achievements over the past few years in the legislative and wildlife management arenas. Some examples include having wolves reclassified as game animals, stopping bills that would have corrupted the Landowner Preference tag system, preventing or modifying land exchanges that would have limited public hunting access, defeating gun control and anti-trapping legislation, successfully lobbying to protect hunting access to the new Cottonwood Canyon State Park and helping pass a “No Net Loss of Hunting Lands” in the Oregon Legislature. Pressure from OHA and its membership also kept the wearing of blaze orange while hunting a personal choice for adults. OHA also spearheaded legislation to allow ODFW to hire citizen houndsmen as agents of the state to control cougars. At the Commission level, OHA led the charge for a year-round cougar season and rules allowing hunters of mule deer and elk to hunt bear and cougar after filling their deer and elk tags.

For the first 25 years of its existence, OHA increased its membership and solidified itself as the state’s top hunting organization with an established lobbying presence in Salem, while individual chapters developed habitat conservation and youth projects and programs. That included a wide variety of habitat projects to provide water for wildlife by building guzzlers, protecting aspen groves from overgrazing, enhancing meadow habitat and controlling junipers, to name just a few categories. OHA and its local chapters also played key roles in expanding mountain quail and wild turkey populations, and provided funding to help state wildlife biologists manage and increase bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goat numbers as well as Oregon’s new moose population. It developed the Turn in Poachers (TIP) program, which has helped Oregon fish and wildlife officers catch many a wildlife lawbreaker, and added habitat damage to the program as well.

OHA members remove noxious weeds and help restore forage that benefits wildlife.
OHA members remove noxious weeds and help restore forage that benefits wildlife.

Most chapters have regular programs and events directed at youth to teach them hunting, shooting and outdoor skills. On the legislative and wildlife management front, OHA helped develop wolf and cougar management plans, supported legislation to encourage more youth to take up hunting, and convinced the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to ban the importation of live elk and deer into the state to prevent the spread of diseases such as chronic wasting disease.

Over the most recent five years, OHA and its members have continued to grow and pursue its mission. On the wildlife habitat front it is noteworthy that many OHA chapters have over the years adopted areas important for wildlife where members have made long-term commitments to return each year for continuing wildlife habitat improvement work. That kind of commitment is extremely important for various government agencies that manage wildlife habitat because it allows them to plan long-term projects knowing that they can rely on OHA members to show up each year and help out. These projects couldn’t be done without the extra help provided by OHA volunteers.

One recent example is a 10-year commitment by the OHA Redmond Chapter, along with Quail Unlimited, to improve wildlife habitat by farming 300 acres of BLM land near Mitchell to benefit deer, elk, pronghorn and a variety of upland birds. They are laying irrigation pipe, tilling the soil, planting forage plants and fruit trees and removing old fence.

“It’s a major commitment for two volunteer groups in Redmond that are 85 miles from the project location,” said chapter member John Crafton. “But it’s an incredible wildlife project and the benefits will be well worth the effort.”

OHA members annually construct, place and refurbish waterfowl nesting structures.
OHA members annually construct, place and refurbish waterfowl nesting structures.

Many other chapters are involved in similar, long-term projects. Some of those include the Capitol, Bend, Redmond and Ochoco chapters who do ongoing powerline corridor maintenance, aspen rehabilitation and guzzler projects in the Willamette, Ochoco and Malheur national forests; Lake County, Klamath and Rogue Valley chapters that make a yearly pilgrimage to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge to do work projects ranging from juniper control to public facilities construction; and the Pioneer Chapter whose members travel to the high desert east of Bend once a month in summer to maintain wildlife guzzlers.

A couple new long-term habitat projects OHA has taken on recently include the Lincoln County and Capitol chapters’ work on the Tami Wagner Wildlife Area near Yachats improving habitat on a meadow area including removing fences, invasive weed control and forage plantings, and the Flynn Creek Meadow Project in the Coast Range near Toledo, another meadow habitat project taken on by the Lincoln County Chapter.

Aimee Bell with the White River Wildlife Area sums it up in her assessment of the annual spring weekend fence repair project the Hoodview Chapter has been doing there for years: “This is the only time we are able to get so much repair work done on the fences,” said Bell. “Without the OHA group it would take us two weeks to get the same amount of work accomplished.”

Youth education remains a top priority for OHA, and just about every chapter has some kind of youth event, whether they do it on their own or partner with local businesses and other organizations. It’s a vital part of OHA’s mission.

“Youth today spend so much time on the phone and in front of computers,” said Duane Johnson, a Pioneer Chapter member and director of his chapter’s Youth Day. “This event is a way to introduce youth to the outdoors and encourage them to spend more time outside.” These chapter events for youth typically include shooting and archery practice, gun safety instruction, wildlife conservation and management basics and other outdoor skills and activities.

Every hunter knows that wildlife management and habitat improvement run on money, and OHA – at both the state and chapter levels – continues to step forward to help fund worthy projects. In fact, wildlife biologists from the various agencies often approach chapters to help fund projects in their area, while the OHA State Board of Directors approves grants each year for statewide projects that help further the organization’s mission.

For example, last year OHA provided the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with a $7,300 grant to buy GPS and telemetry gear for a buck deer migration study on the White River Wildlife Area. It’s important to note that the Mid-Columbia Chapter kicked in $950 for the project as local chapters often partner with State OHA in funding a project. Other OHA grants in recent years include a $5,000 grant to the La Grande Forestry and Range Sciences Lab for elk nutrition research in Southwestern Oregon, $3,000 to help fund aerial monitoring of bighorn sheep in the Ochoco National Forest, and most recently, $7,000 to remove invasive weeds and reseed an oak savannah used by deer and elk in the Columbia River Gorge.

In addition to funding made available by the state-level Wildlife Superfund, OHA chapters often contribute funding as well as volunteer labor for the projects with which they are involved.

With 30 years of experience under its belt successfully fighting for wildlife conservation and hunters rights while growing a new generation of hunters, the Oregon Hunters Association has more than proven that it is up to the task its founders set for the then-spanking-new organization those three decades ago.

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