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Carmen Macdonald

A passion for fishing and hunting grew into a career that's included Alaskan guide, media sales, writer and the politics of outdoor recreation. My company, Vaunt Marketing, represents industry-leading brands in the US and Canadian markets.

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February 13, 2015

Who's Killing ODFW?

by Carmen Macdonald

Candidates for the Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were interviewed publicly today in a Commission meeting. In all honesty, it came across as more of a campaign than a hiring process, but more on that later.

Each candidate was offered 15 minutes total to make their stump speech and provide answers to six questions. For more on what transpired, read Bill Monroe's column on Oregonlive.

I want to focus on what wasn't a part of the interview. Namely, what qualifications these potential candidates might have to lead and operate a public agency of 1,400 people. Because the straight scoop is, ODFW is in a massive crisis.
Consider another Oregonlive article by Kelly House. . It covers some of the issue with declining participation while offering some data that illustrates how hunters and anglers are declining as a percent of the population.

Michael Finley, Chair of the Fish and WIldlife Commission makes this comment in the article, "Most of the Western states are dealing with these same types of issues."


Let's have a look. Heres a recent study from 2013: Exploring Recent Increases In Hunting and Fishing Participation. The title alone ought to give you pause.

Tables 1.1 and 1.2 (Pages 15 and 16 of the PDF) look at percentage of growth, or decline. of hunting and fishing license sales from 2005 to 2011. This is just raw license sales. Did the state sell more or less in straight up numbers.

Washington's hunter numbers grew 12%, their angler numbers grew 30%. California's hunter numbers grew 38%, angler numbers were flat (0% change).

In Oregon, hunting participation DECLINED 17%, and angling participation DECLINED 18%. As a state, the results are the 8th WORST in hunting and 6th WORST in fishing.

Houston... we have a problem. To achieve results this bad (in comparison to the rest of the states) you have to work at it.

This problem didn't begin today. The numbers are from 2005 to 2011. This is a systemic issue dating back at least 10 years. Jump another 10 years back and you'll hit the genesis of the decline. Between 1994 and 1998, anglers numbers dropped by 80,000. When El Nino hit in the 1990's, the ocean coho fisheries were closed as well as coho hatcheries. These anglers left over a 4 year period, and the numbers have never recovered.

Then we cut steelhead hatcheries and stream trout programs.

License numbers bumped in the early 2000's on the back of record Columbia River returns and openings of Spring and Summer Chinook that had been closed or severely restricted for the 24 years prior.

But the Columbia is not enough to maintain anglers. The percentage of people that can afford or choose to own a boat that's safe on the big river just isn't that big, certainly not on the state level.

So what's going on? And where is the concern for this by the Governor, the Commission and the hiring process? And maybe more importantly, why is Oregon on this path? While this very political sounding hiring process complete with stump speeches about creating partnerships, funding steams and tapping other users for cash-- all the important people seem okay with the fact that Oregon is sucking wind on providing for the primary constituents of the agency. The paying customers are telling ODFW they don't like the product. They're choosing to spend those dollars elsewhere.

Oregon has been and is a leader in conservation (given they don't manage the actual land or the water).

Who's killing ODFW? A lot of them are quoted in the article by Kelly House. It's the past 20 years of conservation, with a total lack of meaningful results, and the commentators of the type in the article (and employees of ODFW and the Commission), for whom "conservation" will never go far enough. At least not until ODFW is dead and buried, hunting and fishing are gone, and nobody is left to give a rip about it.

This hiring ought to be about reconnecting hunters and anglers to the resource...in a big way.

Worry about the others, who pay nothing, later. What's transpiring in Oregon is tragic.

Comments (20)

flopearedmule wrote 2 years ago

#1)Less hatchery fish = less opportunity = less participation. Show me any river that has in anyway recovered without hatchery fish and I will be a convert forever. Lines up nicely with the decline.

#2)I used to fish the bank and there are less spots to fish hence I got drift boat and eventually purchased a columbia boat. Most can't. I got tired of fishing elbow to elbow going after the two non biters in the run.

garyk wrote 2 years ago

To sell licenses, they have to be easily available. Oregon is probably the most difficult place I've experienced for purchasing angling licenses. (I will acknowledge it has gotten better although the POS system has forced out small shops).

There is also a long history of the agency treating its license vendors poorly. That and onerous requirements on the vendors are why many small fishing/hunting shops - even at destination locations - and other stores, do not sell licenses like they do in other states.

sthdjay wrote 2 years ago

"I want to focus on what wasn't a part of the interview. Namely, what qualifications these potential candidates might have to lead and operate a public agency of 1,400 people."... and... "This hiring ought to be about reconnecting hunters and anglers to the resource...in a big way."

OK, so who's your choice among the three candidates? And what strategies, really, do you suggest the new director use to reconnect those hunters/fishers and the resource?

It seems that the primary issue/complaint about ODFW is that consumptive users are paying the majority of the bills, yet getting fewer opportunities, more restrictions, and increased costs to hunt/fish. Meanwhile, non-consumptive users get a "free ride." This pitting of conservationists vs. hunters/fishers is the real tragedy. The true enemy of the resource is the apathetic general public/tragedy of the commons/not in my back yard approach that our society is rooted in.

Having fish and wildlife resources for consumptive use and non-consumptive use costs money. These costs can either be direct, as in technological fixes to solve biological problems(like running fish and wildlife agencies, hatcheries, barging programs). Or the costs can be lost opportunity costs, to prevent the biological problems in the first place (like not converting this watershed, or that watershed, to housing. Or not building this dam or that dam, Or preventing the Pebble Mine). We are either going to pay as a society up front, or on the back end.

I don't know if it can be done, but if a new Director can bring these two groups together, find some common ground, and start working on common goals, the agency may have a chance, and both the user groups will be better served.

Flopearedmule commented... "Show me any river that has in anyway recovered without hatchery fish and I will be a convert forever." Salmon and steelhead and been recovering themselves without hatcheries in PNW rivers for thousands of years following eruptions, glaciers, fires, and other local "disasters". It's the beauty of population biology and the process of straying, and proof that these anadromous fish truly are resilient.

Personally, I am a consumptive conservationist. I want to bonk a fish on the head, and as long as there are hatchery fish around, I'll bonk as many as I can. In my perfect world, strong wild populations would exist in protected watersheds, and these wild populations could provide moderate opportunities for some head bonking.

Jackson wrote 2 years ago

OK...I'll take the bait. CM I think you're heart may be in the right place, but your bashing of the management agency is misguided. I don't believe you are seeing some of the big picture, or choose to ignore it. As long as we keep destroying fish and wildlife habitat, we will not see animal populations, and the associated opportunity, increase. Timber companies continue to harvest leaving little, or in some cases, no riparian buffer. They log areas that are prone to landslide or mass failure, and apply herbicides for multiple years before replanting. Meanwhile, animal populations respond negatively to these landscape-wide changes, and the cry goes out "more hatchery fish" or "kill the cougars". The wool has been pulled over your eyes buddy. Realize that these for profit companies don't provide nearly the high paying quality jobs they used to, and that healthy fish and wildlife populations (and watersheds) BENEFIT US ALL! I am NOT against timber production. Hell my house is made of wood and I wipe my but. BUT WE NEED TO BE RESPONSIBLE. Leave a buffer on ALL STREAMS (including non-fish), don't log the landslide prone areas and NO MORE HERBICIDES.

Jackson wrote 2 years ago

Someone above wanted a example of a run that is recovering. I am assuming recovering enough to allow recreational harvest. How about wild coho salmon? Pretty good recreational seasons up and down the Oregon Coast. Are you a convert now? Didn't think so...

Also...we've been heavily impacting this state for darn near 150 years. Expect recovery in a few years? Not going to happen that fast Turbo, especially when we are still impacting watersheds to the detriment of fish and wildlife.

Also also, simply dumping more fish on top of stressed wild populations is not necessarily the answer. Biologists use the term Carrying Capacity to describe the limitations imposed by habitat. Basically only so many animals can be added before negative consequences start to take hold. If you have too many animals, all animals start to become less fit, more prone to disease, predation, etc. Plus there are consequences to mining the wild population in order to produce hatchery raised fish, especially if the wild population is already under other stressors such as habitat destruction.

fishnut999 wrote 2 years ago

A number of years ago we have a very active volunteer group building & using hatch boxes to supplement the fish runs on many of our coastal streams. The South Fork of the Coquille was for many years the top producing stealhead stream in Oregon due to the efforts of the Powers STEP volunteers. Today ODFW has managed to pass a law prohibiting an individual from spawning a fish, thus no eggs for the STEP programs other than the eggs ODFW is willing to allow them to have. Therefore ODFW controls the production of fish by those volunteers. The Nacanicum at Seaside had an excellent run of stealhead & chinook salmon when the volunteers had their STEP hatch boxes working. Not today. The North Fork of the Nehalem was in the late 80's early 90's overwhelming the hatchery on that stream. Not today. Want fish??? Get that law off the books & allow those STEP volunteers to use their hatch boxes & in a few years we will have all kinds of fish at no cost to the State... Everyone would benefit with more fish. The coastal economies of this State would blossom, the commercial fisheries would benefit and all fishermen would be much happier....

flopearedmule wrote 2 years ago

Except the man above who thinks that having one or two native steelhead in a run constitutes a recovered river. Another one of these holistic types who thinks he knows better than everyone else and wants all the gear fisherman off his river.

HalibutHoss wrote 2 years ago

I couldn't agree more with this post. The Odfw has the lowest rating of any public agency in the state of Oregon. It is geared to what industry wants and patronizes those who want more from the so called management of fish and game. I have hunted near my home at Vida Oregon for 30 years, but have not bought a dear or elk tag for 4 years now. They managed the cougar population to the extinction of all the dear and most of the elk calves. Then Weyerhauser asks for 350 dollars to hunt the areas that used to produce good hunting. And now you can't keep a trout caught in Gate Creek either.
Now that we have a recovered ling cod population they poo poo the idea of a 3 fish retention of lings instead of 2 inside 40 fa. It would make ground fishing more attractive and encourage more angler participation especially since they want to charge for a ground fish permit.
The ODFW is responsible to no one and has no real leadership to achieve a better outdoor experience and participation for Oregon"s outdoor population.

Carmen Macdonald wrote 2 years ago

@ sthdjay

I am very much a consumptive conservationist- although I found it troubling that consumptive has to be added. Conservation includes consumption, always has. However, today it appears that preservation has become the new definition of conservation by those who wish to shove anglers and hunters out of their position as the most meaningful group of conservationists that have ever existed. Conservation doesn't mean no touch. It doesn't mean no harvest. The North American Model of Conservation specifically includes "take" of species. Oregon statues for management of fish and wildlife include use, not simply preservation.

I didn't have a choice for Director in mind prior to writing. Was interested in the process, and that within the public portion of the interview, the Commissions questions included much about policy (campaign type questions) and nothing about operations (like being responsible to the budget and the function of the organization). Curt Melcher is the new Director and having been Deputy Director, I assume he has the experience with operations and I know he is an angler and a hunter.

For strategy, please look at the link regarding license sales. Facing a $37 million shortfall, the only strategy is creating fisheries (and hunts, but admittedly my knowledge on the hunting side is much less). At this point, there is no other funding mechanism available- save the General Fund but surely budgets will go into review by new Governor Kate Brown. Please look at the Kelly House article on OregonLive. Oregon Wild, Trout Unlimited and the Kitzhaber's Natural Resource Director all make baseless accusations on "conservation". For the last 20 years, we've taken massive preservationist steps. On fish, these actions have primarily targeted hatcheries- with effectively zero results. In short, the focus needs to be placed on creating fisheries.

The rest of your post, I generally agree with. The non-game folks need to come to the table with their own funding strategies. That community has shot down a tax on bird seed, not once, but twice. Put their money where their mouth is and quit acting like spoiled brats.

And finally, yes, these fish have been recovering themselves for eons. However, in the last hundred years we've caused damage (dams, siltation, draining of wetlands, diking of rivers, alterations to flood plains) that will not be undone in many lifetimes. The population biologist strategy that the fish will heal themselves in these instances is a myth. Also, with all of these actions in place, the conventional wisdom that hatchery fish are a or even "the" issue is a joke.

We have fish and wildlife because anglers and hunters use (and therefor provide funding to maintain) fish and wildlife.

Carmen Macdonald wrote 2 years ago

@ Jackson

On your first comment, I agree. But here's some bait for you. Take a river valley: timbered hillsides, riparian zone, river. Which parts do ODFW have authority over? The answer is none of them. They manage the animals that exist in the valley and in the water, but do not have authority over the land or river, or even the water flowing in the river.

On your second comment...

Explain to me "mining the wild population." We have not had direct harvest on wild steelhead for 25 years in round numbers. By what mechanism are populations below capacity, especially coastal populations. So, certainly you know that productivity goes down when a population is at capacity or above. When below capacity, productivity increases. So what are we mining? Is there some upside you're looking to, or just regurgitating talking points of some groups? Mining seems to have correlation to removal without replacement. That's not how these populations operate.

Like the Turbo comment. So let's look at this. If recovery is going to take generations and based upon healing the impact of our presence, how on earth does the minutia of fisheries or hatchery fish even play a role? Fact is they don't, because they don't represent the true limiting factors. Thank you for illustrating the point.

Wild fish represent the best and strongest. Hatchery fish are weak. So why then when issues of capacity come up do the hatchery fish somehow beat up the wild fish? It makes no sense. Wild fish are dispersed throughout the basin and the best habitat. Hatchery fish are most often applied lower in systems, in less than ideal habitat and generally return to those lower productivity areas. We get more hatchery fish back because we skip the early life history portion where wild fish are subject to the poor habitat issues you mention. Until that issue is fixed, the hatchery fish are meaningless as is becoming clear in the numerous areas where hatchery fish have been removed and the wild fish have completely failed to respond.

On silvers, there were three components driving them down.
1. Huge exploitation rates
2. An historic El Nino event
3. Hatchery fish

Exploitation rate went from 90+% down to less than 20% (and even lower many places). El Nino ended. And yet, removal of hatchery fish earn all your credit?

The faster we can cut through emotion and ideology in these issues, the faster we can get to meaningful results.

finnedwonder wrote 2 years ago

It is pretty sad how hard odfw works to eliminate opportunity in fisheries and game animals. All from organized pressure by activist groups. Yet recreational anglers can never get organized themselves. We are starting to get better at it but we are way behind in this game.

finnedwonder wrote 2 years ago

When you purchase a yearly angling license and conservation stamp (no extra cards, licenses, special use fees, permits etc required here mind you) in Missouri. You get a yearly subscription to a magazine published monthly for the very purpose of spreading word about the states recreation opportunities and what its doing to help you as an outdoors-person. What have we ever gotten for a license here in Oregon besides a lighter wallet. I know that different states have much different problems in managing and we cant compare apples to potatoes but clearly something has to change.

BillH wrote 2 years ago

In addition to being an avid angler and bird hunter, I do some bird watching and home feeding. I feel that bird watchers and users of wildlife watching facilities as well as the additional staff and other associated expenses need to pony up their share rather than raise my fishing and hunting license fees. Since no one seems to come up with an agreeable way to raise the needed dollars, the general fund needs to be tapped and the costs spread among the states taxpayers.

Jackson wrote 2 years ago

To your comment on my first comment: my point is simply that there are many factors affecting fish and wildlife production that are outside of ODFW's control. We need to take a hard look at how our watersheds are managed. So I'm glad that you agree.

To your comment on my second comment: Let me preface my remarks by saying that I don't regurgitate anything. I'm a consumptive conservationist too. Removing wild fish from a population to freshen up the genetics of a hatchery program would constitute mining. You'll notice in my comments above that I said this could be a problem when added to other stressors, not that it was a limiting factor. If you'd like to have an intelligent debate, please don't put words in my mouth. Steelhead have an extremely complex and varied life history. Your presumption of hatchery fish staying low in the system is unfounded. Hatchery fish stray. Period. In my part of the world, they aren't collected where they return. They are free to move throughout the system(s).

Jackson wrote 2 years ago

Recovery isn't going to take generations. It may not happen. Not as long as we are still destroying habitat. Its better than it was, but we still have a long way to go.

There are more than 3 factors that brought about the decline of coho salmon. The habitat was getting wrecked too. I don't disagree with the exploitation rates causing major damage, but El Nino? Hmmm, coho were making it though just fine in El Ninos of the past. Red herring. No where in my comments did I say that hatchery coho caused all the problems. I pointed to coho salmon as a recovering fishery that allows harvest. If you want to debate this topic, please don't try to pin things on me I didn't say.

I stand by one of my original arguments: you cannot simply dump more fish on top of wild fish in big numbers and not expect some fish to lose out.

Don't just blame the managers when many forces are at work.

Carmen Macdonald wrote 2 years ago

Jackson, I apologize. When you use the term "mining" you use standard issue talking points of the anti-hatchery crowd, whether by intent or not. For the record, I would consider utilizing wild fish to freshen up hatchery genetics best practices.

If El Nino represents a Red Herring to you, intelligent debate becomes impossible, given the 1990's event was historic and well documented. When I speak directly with one of the brightest minds in the region on population biology and have him tell me that hatchery practices didn't change the fate of coho and ocean conditions did (in reference to the El Nino event of the 90's), I'm going with him, respectfully.

Jackson wrote 2 years ago

Ocean productivity has always waxed and waned. The damage caused by El Nino was compounded by the other factors you (and I) mentioned.

You are still missing the "elephant in the room". Its the habitat. For both fish and wildlife.

One of the things you mentioned in your opening salvo was that ODFW cut the stream stocking of trout. You like those things? That's cool. Seems like ODFW's money could be spent better in a lot of other places.

Carmen Macdonald wrote 2 years ago

Jackson, I don't miss habitat. Please read my past stuff. Habitat is the determining factor of these populations. Give a read here please: http://www.ifish.net/board/blog.php?a=3848&b=40

The issue with habitat is ODFW does not manage habitat. The don't manage the land, or the water, just the creatures that live on land or in the water. In the Coastal Multi-Species Plan that was passed, habitat was specifically excluded from the scope of the work.

ODFW doesn't have any money. That's the point. Anglers and hunters are leaving the agency behind. ODFW is facing a 37 million dollar shortfall if their fee increase and general fund money don't come through. Point of the opening salvo is that we better be more worried about generating income at this point. Participation equals income.

Jackson wrote 2 years ago

My point is there are lots of factors that affect fish and wildlife populations that are outside of the control of ODFW. On this we can agree.

Until non consumptive users pay their share, funding is going to continue to be a problem. The field folks spend alot of their time on dealing with issues other than fish and game management.

Threemuch wrote 2 years ago

While I am sometimes frustrated by ODFW actions, and it seems like they always close things just as they start to get good, I don't think it is their actions that are dissuading so many from buying licenses. It's the cost. I almost fell over when they told me how much I owed for my sportsman's pack. I felt like saying, "no, no...resident, not non-res." Raising prices to cover budget shortfalls will only continue to result in lower and lower numbers until only the elite wealthy will be able to participate.

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