Paying more for nothing; and TMP effects aren’t equal

By Jayson Jacoby March 30, 2012 10:34 am

Got a call the other day from a local hunter who doesn’t think much of having to spend 8 bucks for the privilege of being informed that he didn’t get the tag he applied for.

Can’t say as I blame him.

It was just three years ago, after all, that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) version of a “Dear John” letter would set you back only $4.50.

And there’s still plenty of hunters around who remember with nostalgia that quaint era when applying for a big game tag was free.

(Come to that, it wasn’t exactly medieval times when you didn’t have to apply at all; you just bought your tag at the sporting goods counter.)

This application fee, I should emphasize, is nonrefundable.

Which makes the process rather like the Oregon Lottery.

Except when you “win” a tag, ODFW doesn’t hand you one of those billboard-style novelty checks.

What you get instead are frostbitten toes from trudging around in the slush, scaring off all the elk before you glimpse so much as an antler tip.

That’s what I get, anyway.

My caller is no doubt a more accomplished nimrod than I am — he could scarcely be less accomplished — so I suppose I understand his request for anonymity.

He doesn’t want it getting back to ODFW that he’s been speaking ill of the agency, lest he go without a tag, and fresh venison, for the next decade.

I’m pretty sure the computer that hands out tags is incapable of holding a grudge.

Although I’ll concede that it’s hardly unreasonable for a hunter to succumb to low-grade paranoia related to his hobby.

Once you’ve seen the kind of dickens a bull elk can get up to — I swear there are flying saucers involved in some cases — your skepticism for conspiracy theories is forever weakened.

Anyway, the caller’s complaint about the application fee will, I’m sure, resonate with his fellow hunters.

The increase, which took effect in 2010, didn’t provoke as much rancor as other elements of the across-the-board license and tag hikes the Legislature also approved.

Yet the application fee went up by a much larger margin — 78 percent — than the average, for all the various licenses and tag fees, of about 20 percent, according to ODFW.

My caller pointed out that the application fee pencils out rather nicely for ODFW in certain hunts.

As a local example, consider two mountain goat hunts.

Last year, 3,927 hunters applied for one of those two hunts, even though the odds of drawing one of the five total tags were astronomical (or Lottery-like, if you prefer).

That’s $31,416 in application fees.

Which works out to $6,283.20 for each of the five tags issued.

Overall, ODFW collected $3,064,216 in fees — that’s 383,027 applications — in 2011.

Six of the eight bucks for each application goes directly to ODFW coffers, while the other $2 is divided between the agency and license sales agents (for online sales, ODFW gets the $2 fee, but it pays 68 cents to the company that maintains the system).

Out of that $6 share, more than half ($3.55) pays for district office staff, big game surveys and the like, $1.04 is for restoring habitat, research and disease control, and the other $1.41 goes for that all-time government favorite: “administrative costs.”

I get that ODFW’s ledger isn’t all that healthy these days.

There aren’t enough young hunters to replace their aging counterparts who have locked up their rifles and closeted their red-and-black wool coats.

Inflation, meanwhile, pecks away at all of us, including ODFW.

Yet I wonder whether ODFW is accelerating the decline in hunting by gouging hunters for what amounts to a roll of the dice.

Trimming the application fee to $6 would “cost” ODFW about $766,000 — a pittance for an agency with an annual budget of about $152 million.

Hunters don’t like to shell out an extra $50 each year for tags and licenses, to be sure.

But, as my caller reminded me, they tend to take special umbrage at spending almost twice as much in exchange for nothing at all.


. . .


As with most euphemism-laden government publications, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s Travel Management Plan (TMP) contains some puzzling passages.

For instance this gem:

“The elderly and less-physically able population will have the same motor vehicle access that is available to all other public motor vehicle users within the WWNF on designated roads and trails.”

I’m sure the elderly and the less-physically able appreciate having that issue cleared up.

I mean surely the old and the infirm have been expecting that under the new TMP only their rigs would be stopped at the Wallowa-Whitman boundary, while younger, fitter drivers blast right through, naked lady silhouette mudflaps flapping in the breeze.

I doubt the paragraph I quoted above from the TMP, as silly as it sounds, is intended to mislead.

But it seems clear to me that the words were chosen to convey the idea that the TMP is scrupulously fair to all categories of forest users, regardless of their physical abilities.

It’s not.

And for obvious reasons, it can’t be.

For some people who are either elderly or less-physically able (or both, in many cases), riding in or on a motor vehicle is the only way they can visit the Wallowa-Whitman.

The TMP bans motor vehicles from dozens of roads that have been open.

So while it’s accurate to write that all forest users will have “the same motor vehicle access” once the TMP takes effect in June, it’s equally true that, because the new rules significantly reduce motor vehicle access, for those visitors for whom that kind of access is the only kind, the post-TMP forest will be decidedly less accessible.

This is an unfortunate result — but also an inevitable result, as I mentioned— of the Wallowa-Whitman complying with the federal edict for all national forests to rewrite their motor vehicle rules.

I think the plan that forest supervisor Monica Schwalbach approved this month is, in general, a reasonable one.

There’s still a pretty vast network of roads out there.

But that doesn’t excuse the Wallowa-Whitman from implying that the effects of the pending road closures will fall with equal force on every segment of the public. 


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.