June 22, 2020

Oregon: Beaver Trapping Ban Decision by the ODFW Commission Delayed

Contact: Aoibheann Cline, Western States Coordinator

On June 12, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commission (Commission) reviewed and updated their furbearer management regulations, as they do every two years. Following release of the Commission meeting agenda, a citizen-proposed amendment to the beaver trapping regulations was submitted which would ban recreational and commercial beaver trapping on the Siuslaw National Forest and on state lands within the Upper Nehalem watershed, approximately 736,000 acres. Siuslaw National Forest encompasses 630,000 acres and the state managed lands of the Upper Nehalem watershed encompasses 106,000 acres. 

Hundreds of pages of public comment letters were submitted prior to the Commission meeting and virtual testimony on the proposed ban lasted nearly six hours during the meeting on June 12. Bipartisan Oregon Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairs Representative Brad Witt and Representative Sherrie Sprenger both testified in opposition of the ban at the Commission meeting, exemplifying their continued and dedicated commitment to the sportsmen and women of Oregon.

When addressing the Commission, Oregon Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Brad Witt offered a passionate plea to avoid making decisions based on emotion, but rather based on professional wildlife management guidance.

“Too often, the species of concern have been allowed to become symbols, not for the sanctity of wildlife management but for the political one-upmanship… How then, might we avoid such costly, repetitive, and politically divisive battles? The answer lies in making sure that all of us are informed and guided by our professional wildlife managers at ODFW, other state natural resources agencies, Oregon State University and our public and private partners.”

NASC Member and Oregon Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Sprenger echoed the call for wildlife management based on the best available science which ODFW and even supporters of the ban admitted did not have the data and scientific evidence to support a harvest closure in this case. Representative Sprenger made a strong stand for Oregon’s sportsmen and women by pointing the Commission to their legislative authority stating, “This Commission was formed and is held accountable by the Legislature through biennium reports to the Legislative Assembly under Oregon law… should the Commission elect to ignore the recommendation of professional wildlife managers at ODFW and adopt this proposal despite the best available science showing otherwise, the Legislature will be eager to hear their justification during this statutorily required report to the Legislative Assembly.”

ODFW staff counsel determined the proposed amendment was improperly noticed with the Secretary of State and thus, was not eligible for adoption or a vote by the Commission. The Commission voted at this time to adopt ODFW’s staff recommendation on the furbearer regulations, which included no change to beaver management and allows for continued trapping of beaver as a wildlife management tool. However, the Commission approved a motion to postpone consideration of the proposed amendment to ban beaver trapping on the Siuslaw National Forest and on state lands within the Upper Nehalem watershed, until the proposed amendment is properly noticed to Oregon’s open-meeting laws. The proposed ban is expected to be heard again at a later Commission meeting. 

Supporters of the beaver trapping ban, including USDA Acting Forest Supervisor for the Siuslaw, Donna Mickley, cited the benefits of beavers as a keystone species that is important for watershed management and habitat for coho salmon. Mickley stated in her testimony that the proposal to restrict beaver trapping within the boundaries of the Siuslaw National Forest is in direct response to the Oregon Coast Coho Recovery Plan and subsequent strategic action plan. Both plans identify beaver and habitat created by beaver as critical to Oregon coast salmon recovery. However, she acknowledged a lack of research and science to support the ban. Other supporters of the ban claimed trapping is outdated and inhumane. Other backers of the ban called for an expansion of the proposed amendment to ban trapping of beavers across all federal lands in the state, and still more advocated for an outright ban across all public lands in the state. 

Opponents to the ban cited a lack of scientific data to support the ban and that the ban is inconsistent with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and thus supported ODFW’s professional wildlife management recommendation to allow for continued recreational and commercial trapping of beavers on the Siuslaw National Forest and on state lands within the Upper Nehalem watershed. Dr. Jimmy Taylor, PH.D., Field Station and Project Leader for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services with the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) at Oregon State University who actively studies beaver movement, habitat, survival and habitat use in Oregon, also opposed the ban because there is no sufficient data or scientific management to support a beaver trapping ban in Oregon.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation provided written comments and verbal testimony opposing the proposed ban because it was not supported by any credible science, but also highlighted that the Commission is statutorily required, under Oregon law, to consider sound science when managing to support anadromous fish habitat, including coho salmon runs. Given that the lack of scientific evidence suggesting that legal, regulated beaver harvest is impacting coho salmon habitat, the steps prescribed by the citizen-proposed beaver trapping ban would not meet the standard defined by existing law.

The ODFW Commission ultimately voted (5-1) to pass the ODFW staff recommendation on furbearer regulations. Unfortunately, after 11 hours in the meeting and more than 6 hours of discussion – staff, public comment, and Commissioner dialogue – on the beaver trapping ban, the vote to even consider the proposed ban had to be continued based on legal counsel recommendation that the proposed amendment was improperly noticed to the Secretary of State and therefore ineligible for action by the Commission. A motion was also made to expand the ban on all national forest land, as well as a motion to re-establish the beaver management working group.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will continue to actively monitor the progress of this proposed ban on recreational and commercial beaver trapping in Oregon. 

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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