Poaching level surprises Oregon wildlife managers

A reason for the decline in mule deer in Oregon?

The study that found this wasn’t looking for poaching per se. It simply emerged as a very major cause of death.

Good to get this out there before wolves are blamed. There are only about 20 wolves in Oregon so far. Already the article mentioned them.

Poaching level surprises Oregon wildlife managers. AP

There were 500 radio collared mule deer in the study. The study period was 5 years. The study was between Bend and south to the CA border. A total of 128 deer died during the 5 years. Poachers got 19, legal hunters got 21, cougar got 15,8 died when hit by vehicles, disease felled 5, 4 got into non-vehicle accidents (such as entanglement in fences). 51 died of unknown causes, which would have put more into each of the previous categories.

33 Responses to “Poaching level surprises Oregon wildlife managers”

  1. Jay Says:

    Between legally harvested elk (15-25k annually of 110-120k over the last 15 years or so) wounding loss, and poaching, what’s the actual human offtake percentage…30-35% annually? More?

    • Jay Says:

      In Idaho, that is…

    • Tom Page Says:

      Idaho elk herds (and most others around the country) have grown over the last few decades. I doubt we would have seen that kind of growth with a 30-35% annual human take piled on top of other mortality.

      Anecdotally, I think mule deer are more vulnerable to poaching. They are more visible, easier to throw in the back of the truck, and less shy (does & young bucks at least) than elk.

      I also think most mule deer in Idaho that are poached are killed for food or target practice, not for antlers. This is worse in some areas than others, I suspect.

      • Jay Says:

        If meat was the object, you’re probably right, but I’d guess many, if not the majority, of elk poachings are strictly for the antlers, which don’t take much time to cut off and haul away. Secondly, overall Idaho elk numbers are down from an estimated 120k a few year back to 100-110 (according to the last stats I saw).

      • Tom Page Says:

        While Idaho’s elk #’s may have dropped in the last few years, they are up from the 80’s, as are most if not all western states.

        Poaching is not a new problem.

        Living and working in three separate rural Idaho counties (Blaine, Custer, Lemhi), one sees many more deer than elk from the roadway. I’d bet that far fewer elk are poached, particularly for food, and many of those unfortunates are bulls killed for their headgear, as you suggest, which doesn’t affect overall #’s.

        Most of the elk I know of also spend nearly all their time in the timber. As difficult as elk are to legally hunt (at least for me) I have hard time believing that illegal take is a truly significant factor in population size. Where were the poachers all that time when the herd numbers were going way up?

        Coincidental (or not?) to the rising elk populations, the deer numbers have been declining across the west for 30 years.

        I’m not discounting poaching as a big problem – it is – particularly in Custer and Lemhi counties, I just don’t think they’re getting very many elk. Antelope and deer get whacked way more often, I’d say.

  2. PointsWest Says:

    While I believe the poaching numbers, I have a couple of comments. Poaching is much higher in areas where people live in the country. In areas of the Northwest, you have many people who live in remote areas of scattered forest and open range land where there are many roads and only a few people who use them. There are many ranchers and small-time loggers who live in remote homes in the northwest. Most of the poaching I have known about was done from the road. Some young or middle aged man is driving along some road where he seldom sees another vehicle and spots a deer a hundred yards off the road. He pulls over and listens for other vehicles. When the coast is clear, and it usually is, he pulls his rifle up and shoots the deer from the window of his truck. He then get as close to the deer as possible with his truck and drags the deer up to it and throws it inside. Then he can haul it home where he can dress and butcher it in a shed or garage.

    There are areas where something like this is hard to pull off. In the interior west, for example, the country is generally much more open and someone might witness poaching from miles away. There are also some areas with fewer roads and fewer people who live in the country because of the servere winters (i. e. Island Park). Other areas are too brushy or deer are less dense and seldom seen from the road. My guess would be that the poaching levels depend mostly on the area and the conditions must be conducive to poaching.

    I lived in North Idaho and heard about poaching all the time. In the Ashton and Island Park area, there was not very much poaching. The difference was that there were more rural people in romote wooded areas in north Idaho and it was more common to see deer from the road.

    I think there is less poaching of elk for obvious reasons. You see fewer elk from the road and elk are so large, some guy is not going to pull one in the back of his SUV by himself on the way home from work.

    I believe southern Oregon does have quite a few rural people and it is common to see deer from the many rural roads. So the poaching statistics in this study represent an area that is conducive to poaching. If a simimalr study is conducted elsewhere, the poching statistic might not be nearly as high.

    • JEFF E Says:

      I remember several years ago(or more) being down on the snake river west of American Falls shortly after the final section of Interstate was put in thru the massacre rocks area. Found a fish trap back in the brush that was big enough to hold a 20 + lb fish, plural.
      Poaching of fish and wildlife is probably the biggest cause in reducing # throught the west.
      Just ask tony and toby.

      • PointsWest Says:

        What?

      • PointsWest Says:

        My point is that some areas have much higher rates of poaching than other areas and that deer are much easier to poach than are elk.

        One cannot take this one statistic from a region of Oregon and apply it to anywhere and/or to any species.

      • PointsWest Says:

        I knew some young crazy guy from Potlach, Idaho who used to brag that he killed up to 20 deer a year. He did so as I described above…from the road. So, it is possible that all 19 deer poached in our referenced study were killed by only a few or perhaps by just one ambitious poacher. How can you apply this one statistic from one area to elk in Montana or Wyoming? You can’t. You need more studies from more varied areas to arrive at any meaningful statistic.

      • Jay Says:

        One guy does not a sample make, either…you need a bigger sample of poachers to make such a generalization. Just because you don’t know about who is doing it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

      • Jay Says:

        Point #2: 500 deer is a HUGE sample size, and while I haven’t read the paper this is based on, I highly doubt the researchers packed all their deer into one small area. So while poaching rates probably due vary widely from area to area, this give an indication of how rampant it is–Idaho, Oregon, or whatever.

        Point #3: did you turn that guy in? If not, you’re as bad as he is. And lastly, what makes you so sure he wasn’t BS’ing you? People say a lot of things, and its not always legit. So your reason for saying this isn’t applicable due to some “bragging” doesn’t exactly put the nail in the coffin for refuting anything.

      • JEFF E Says:

        sorry PW. meant this to go with WH’s post below. still does not diminish the validity

      • PointsWest Says:

        ++Jay writes: Point #2: 500 deer is a HUGE sample size++

        I have had good training in statistics and know the sample size is probably large enough but for it to apply to a wide non-homogeneous area, the sampling needs to be random over that wide non-homogeneous area and not be confined to some small area as this study was. This statistic is only good for the area where the study was conducted. Further, since the poaching rate may vary over the years, a study needs to be conducted on random years and not in just one year.

        ++Jay writes: Point #3: did you turn that guy in? If not, you’re as bad as he is.++

        More faulty logic. I am not as bad as he is. I did not see him poach; I only heard him brag about it. I did not know him that well. His name was Garth so now you know as much about it as I do and, by your logic, if you don’t turn him in, you are as bad as he is. By the way, I do not like people telling me that I am as bad as someone who commits a crime because I did not run to the police and turn them in. I think your statement was rude and childish. I’m sure you have seen many people commit crimes such as drinking under age, dispensing alcohol to minors, jay walking, possession of drugs, pirating software, speeding, unsafe lane change, failing to signal for a turn, etc., etc., and you did not run to the police and turn them in.

      • Save bears Says:

        PW,

        I beg to differ, 911 is called quite often when it comes to witnessing crimes..

      • Jay Says:

        PW–you made the point that a guy kills 20 deer a year, and use that as an argument that 20 deer poached is really no big deal, that one person could easily account for that. So, either you’re implying there is good evidence that this was happening to support your argument, in which case you have pretty good knowledge of a chronic poacher that needs to be turned in; or, your 20 deer poached by one person is just backwoods heresay, and therefore of no standing whatsoever in your argument that 20 deer poached is easily accountable by one person, and poaching really isn’t all that rampant. Which one is it? You can’t have it both ways here. As for you being as bad as him, maybe I overstated things a bit, but to turn a blind eye to something like that is essentially condoning it–you could easily call the local warden and put the guy on his radar whether you had firsthand information or not. However, kind of a moot point, since it sounds as if its just someone shooting their mouth off.

      • Jay Says:

        “State biologists discovered the level of poaching during a five-year research study of deer between Bend and the California border, The Oregonian reported. The state study of 500 mule deer fitted with radio collars was conducted between July 2005 and last January.”

        Seems like a sufficiently large sample size over a large enough area over a sufficient time span, wouldn’t you say PW?

      • PointsWest Says:

        Oh…I missed the part about it being 5 years. My bad. But is was still in only one area of southern Oregon and statistics derived there will not apply to Apache NF in Arizona nor to Central Idaho, for example, where both the geography, the deer density, the human density, the number of roads, and local human culture all differ.

        I also lived in New Mexico. There are areas in New Mexico where locals do not obey any game laws and poaching of deer and elk are common. Do a little reading about an area called Truchas, New Mexico. There was a little bit of a war there back in the 70’s. Robert Redford created a movie about this area called The Milagro Beanfield War. You cannot apply anything you learn about poaching in Oregon to Truchas, New Mexico.

      • Jay Says:

        Bend to California is almost 150 miles, so we’re talking about 500 deer over 5 years over a large area. Not sure what else can be said to show this is a fairly comprehensive study. Regardless, poaching is a big problem everywhere, whether you think this study is applicable elsewhere or not. Is it going to be exactly the same from one area to the next? Of course not, but the fact that poaching amounts to as many deer as were killed legally (and possibly more, as pointed out by Frank Renn) in a rural area where there’s no reason to think there’s a disproportionate number of outlaws indicates poaching is a significant source of mortality, your anecdotal information notwithstanding.

      • PointsWest Says:

        I fly from LA to Seattle on a regular basis and fly over this area. It is forested hills with many open areas of semi-arid scrub land to open eastern Oregon desert. You can look at it in Google Earth. There are many roads and many scattered homes and small towns and villages. It looks to be very good deer country. People who live in this area will drive these many rural roads on a daily basis and many will spot deer near the road where they are unlikely to be witnessed in poaching a deer. That is, it is ideal poachng country. Nothern Idaho is good poaching country for similar reasons…semi-wooded areas with scattered settlement and many roads.

        There are many other areas in the West, however, that are not good poaching country. They are not good deer country or they are too brushy and/or forested to see deer from the road or there are no roads or they are too open so the poachers are too visible to potential witnesses or they are so remote from human habitation that there are no people around to do the poaching.

        I do not believe you can take this single area in of south central Oregon as representative of all areas of the West. Sorry.

      • Jay Says:

        I guess I’m having a hard time following your logic: first you indicate that poaching was a problem in Idaho, but perhaps by a small group of people; than you astutely assessed the likelihood of poaching by the demographics of an area while passing over it at 30,000 feet in a commercial jetline, as determined from the characteristics of “good poaching country” (roads, small towns); you indicate that S. Oregon fits the bill, as does Northern Idaho, as well as areas of New Mexico. So clearly, according to your determination, poaching is an issue in those places you mention. Then, you tell us that the results in the aforementioned study have no predictive value whatsoever for other areas. Basically it’s one big contradiction: to summarize your argument: you’ve seen serious poaching in several places (New Mexico, Potlatch, ID, and your determination of good poaching country in S. Oregon from your aerial assessment), but the study does not apply anywhere else but where it was conducted, and we can’t make even the slightest inferences from the results to other areas?

        Also, based on your description of good poaching areas (roads and small towns), does that not describe a huge portion of the west? Wyoming, Montana, Idaho (outside of the metropolis areas of Missoula and Boise, obviously), Utah, S. and Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington, Nevada? All these places are by and large sparsely populated, and have Forest Service or BLM road networks criss-crossing them. Seems they aren’t so dissimilar from S. Oregon to me.

      • PointsWest Says:

        ++Jay wrties: I guess I’m having a hard time following your logic: first you indicate that poaching was a problem in Idaho, ++

        No I did not, “indicate poaching was a problem in Idaho.” I indicated that I knew of some areas in Idaho that were conducive to poaching and I indicated that I knew of some areas in Idaho that were NOT conducive to poaching. Specifically, I mentioned Island Park as not having much of a poaching problem because, due the harsh winters, people do not live there year-round and cannot shoot a deer and throw it in the back of the truck on the way home from work.

        ++Jay wrties: but perhaps by a small group of people; than you astutely assessed the likelihood of poaching by the demographics of an area while passing over it at 30,000 feet in a commercial jetline, as determined from the characteristics of “good poaching country” (roads, small towns); you indicate that S. Oregon fits the bill, as does Northern Idaho, as well as areas of New Mexico. ++

        Yes…south central Oregon does appear to me to be an area conducive to poaching…lots of roads and homes in scattered woodland where people constantly spot deer from the road while doing their day-to-day driving. I did not say this about Truchas New Mexico. To the contrary, I pointed Truchas, New Mexico out as being a unique area and have a poaching problem for entirely different reasons. There the problem can be attributed to a large Hispanic population that has lived in and dominated this area since before the Mexican-American war and they often do not recognize the legal authority of the State of New Mexico nor the United States of America. There have been sheriffs and game wardens shot near Truchas. There was something approaching a war there in the 70’s. The point being that any statistic derived in Oregon could not be applied to the Truchas, New Mexico area. Actually, Truchas does not have a lot of roads and most of the people live in the small villages similar to those in Mexico. But they ignore state game laws and illegally hunt even up into the nearby Sangre De Cristo range and the Truchas Peaks Wilderness.

        ++Jay wrties: So clearly, according to your determination, poaching is an issue in those places you mention. Then, you tell us that the results in the aforementioned study have no predictive value whatsoever for other areas. ++

        OK, I suppose I should have said that the results probably do have some predictive value but only in areas of the West with a similar geography and human culture. That is other similar areas of northern California, Oregon, Washington, Northern Idaho, and maybe some areas of Montana. But that is as far as it could be stretched. These results could not be applied to the West, in general, however which was my main point.

        ++Jay wrties: Basically it’s one big contradiction: to summarize your argument: you’ve seen serious poaching in several places (New Mexico, Potlatch, ID, and your determination of good poaching country in S. Oregon from your aerial assessment), but the study does not apply anywhere else but where it was conducted, and we can’t make even the slightest inferences from the results to other areas?++

        As mentioned, it might apply to similar areas of the Northwest. Other areas, such as the Puget Sound area, it would not apply because poachers are more likely to be arrested in a suburban area where there are many potential witnesses around who might see the poaching or hear the gunshots.

        ++Jay wrties: Also, based on your description of good poaching areas (roads and small towns), does that not describe a huge portion of the west? Wyoming, Montana, Idaho (outside of the metropolis areas of Missoula and Boise, obviously), Utah, S. and Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington, Nevada? All these places are by and large sparsely populated, and have Forest Service or BLM road networks criss-crossing them. Seems they aren’t so dissimilar from S. Oregon to me.++

        No…most of the West is much more sparsely populated than is south central Oregon. Something like 65% of Idaho is public land that humans cannot build structures of any kind upon let alone towns and villages. Vast areas of Idaho, Utah, Colorado, etc, are uninhabited semi-arid or arid wilderness with few roads and few people driving them and the deer are spotty. Conversely, areas such as south central Oregon are not so arid and were settled earlier, there is much more private land, and most of what is left of public land, the National Forest land, has been logged at least once and has a whole network of roads. There are roads, clearcuts, towns, and homes all over south central Oregon. Other areas of the West have more public land free of logging, roads, and human habbitation. But don’t take my word for it…just study it for awhile in Google Earth.

      • Jay Says:

        You should get out more often and quit assessing land from a jet airliner–the other “pristine” states outside of Oregon are relatively logging, road, and civiliation-free? Give me a break! Between the FS and the BLM, there are 464,000 miles of roads! Now I can’t tell you exactly how much occurs in the western states, but considering that most BLM and FS ground occurs in the west, it’s safe to say most roads are out here too. As for population densities, you say S. Oregon is more densely populated than the other western states–got any figures to back that up? It’s true that overall population density is higher than Oregon, but that’s because of the Portland metropolitan area and other cities in the surrounding area. If you calculated pop. density excluding the big cities, I would be willing to bet there are not that big of differences across the rural west. It would appear to me that you use a lot of anecdotes and unsubstantiated opinion to construct these demographic rules that apparently dictate the rules of poaching.

      • PointsWest Says:

        In addition to flying over the West, I have lived in most of the western states and have hunted, fished or hiked these areas. There are not many areas of the West that I have not, at least, driven through…including south central Oregon.

        I see no point in carrying on this discussion and I stand by my assertion that statitics about poaching deer in south central Oregon cannot be applied thoughout the West. South central Oregon is very different from the great wilderness of Central Idaho, it is very different from the Basin and Range Povince of Nevada, it is very different from the Mogollon Rim of Arizona, and it is very different from Death Valley in California. One size does not fit all no matter how much lube you’re willing to pour on it and how furious you try and jam it in.

      • Jay Says:

        Fair enough PW–your assertion is based on conjecture and anecdotes, but it your opinion nonetheless. Your personal anecdotes seem to suggest differently (you’ve mentioned in a couple different posts personally knowing poachers in several different places), but you are entitled to your opinion.

      • Jay Says:

        One last comment, then we can put this one to bed: yes, S. Oregon is diffent than Central idaho is different than W. Wyoming is different than Alabama, Georgia, or anywhere else on this planet, and yet poaching occurs in all these places. Why you are so adament that it is the place, and not the inhabitants as the primary influence of poaching rates, is beyond me. In MY opinion, poaching is a result of demographic/social issues (poverty, lack of education,upbringing, etc.), not a “what type of habitat and how many roads are there” issue. These issues exist universally across the west, not just Southern Oregon.

      • PointsWest Says:

        ++Jay writes: “your assertion is based on conjecture and anecdotes”++

        …and your assertions are based on ….what?

      • Jay Says:

        Facts–you’re using stories about guys bragging about killing deer, assessing poaching likelihood by counting miles of road and population density from a jetliner, etc., to support your assertions. I bothered to look up population densities, road miles, etc. Google–you should try it.

  3. william huard Says:

    Poachers got 19, legal hunters got 21. Maybe Oregon can hire Tony Mayer to run a hunting ethics course or seminar. He could name it the “Pitfalls of Poaching”

  4. frank renn Says:

    One would expect the legal hunters to turn in the collars. One can assume that the poached deer were left where they were shot. If a poacher shot a deer and threw it in the back of his pickup it would seem they would trash the radio collar.That brings up the point, how many are really poached?

  5. mikepost Says:

    In California the conventional wisdom is that poaching is equal to the legal take. This seems to be generally valid when herd counts are made although only in the most general sense given the dicey nature of aerial counts. If you want a big shock, take a small plane up at night and fly over your favorite hunting area well after dark during the fall and the amount of spotlighting will amaze you.

    • WM Says:

      Poaching may be explained by alot of different motives. Likely it has been studied alot already, and there probably some pretty good academic papers on it. Here are some of my thoughts about why some people poach:

      1a) Food – economic necessity (300 pounds of elk/deer meat in the freezer, procured through a few hours effort on a back road, is the equivalent of $1,700-2,200, if you compare it to 300 lbs. of beef/chicken protein purchased at a grocery store with taxed income)

      1b) Profit – economic gain (There is value in selling either a green or taxidermy specimen of a “trophy” antlered animal – up to several thousand $$$ depending on species and individual specimen characteristics). Also there are instances of beef hamburger being illegally augmented with elk to increase profit at a commercial butcher shop.

      2) Desire to obtain a trophy (or fill a tag any time during hunting season by any means including a spotlight or bait) in which illegal take is not important

      3) Sense of entitlement or annoyance (think rancher/farmer who has deer or elk that eat his alfalfa, hay or winter wheat; or the damn critters are eating my roses and carrots and trampling the garden and lawn.

      4) A sicko psychopathic desire to kill and watch wild animals die for no reason

      5) A desire to mess with the results of a scientific study, so shooting COLLARED animals might just do that (aka – rebellion against government)

      6) A desire to taunt wildlife officials just for the entertainment thrill of it (rebellion against authority/government again, or a risk junkie “high” that comes from the possibility of being caught).


      Then there are the elements of:

      a) Availabiity of poaching targets

      b) Mindset that rationalizes it is ok to poach, including perceptions that this is a victimless crime – you are just poaching the King’s deer, belonging to nobody in particular. A few won’t be missed (but in the aggregate a lot are killed if many do it)

      c) Opportunity to poach with little risk of being caught (sparse population; road systems that provide access and escape; obviously risk is greater if you keep animal parts and the larger they are the more energy required by the poacher, and more difficult to hide; low density of people; few law enforcement; social norm to keep quiet about knowledge of poaching by others)

      So I am going to guess there probably are parts of a poaching field study and analysis that are transferable, including different geographic areas by weighing these factors, and maybe even modeling the behavior – social scientist would love this one. JB, you monitoring this thread?


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