Members of the Coquille tribe were granted subsistence hunting and fishing rights under 19th century treaties never ratified by Congress
A black-tailed buck appears to check a game camera mounted in a tree by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists during a deer count in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. [Photo courtesy ODFW]
Members of the Coquille Indian Tribe have their first subsistence hunting opportunities in five southwestern Oregon counties under a new state agreement that recognizes treaty rights once negotiated but never enacted by the federal government.
As part of a new mutual agreement for the tribe to help state agencies manage fish and wildlife species here, tribesmen now have new subsistence hunting rights that give them allow longer seasons and more liberal bag limits on area big game such as deer and elk, as well as bird species such as turkeys.
Tribal members are also negotiating subsistence fishing opportunities with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife which, like hunting rights, could extend beyond current salmon limits and rainbow trout imposed on other Oregonians.
Subsistence hunting and fishing rights were negotiated in 19th century treaties that were never ratified by Congress. This is the first time that the Coquille Indian Tribe has exercised these rights.
“They have been hunters and gatherers for the past 15,000 years,” says John Ogan, the tribe’s attorney, who brokered the deal with ODFW. “We are committed to ensuring that there is no overexploitation in a local area.
“The tribe is more about managing abundance,” says Ogan.
The tribe’s hunting grounds consist of land in five counties — Jackson, Curry, Coos, Douglas and Lane — where members of the tribe currently live, officials said. Josephine County is not involved because there were no documented tribal members recently, Ogan says.
But so far, only 70 tribal members have signed up for these free licenses and tags, and only one animal — a Roosevelt elk shot by a teenager on tribal land in Coos County — has been killed as part of the new program, says Ogan.
“I don’t think the general public understands the very small number of people who participate,” says Ogan.
ODFW officials agree, saying the agency sells about 100,000 hunting, angling and shellfish licenses in those five counties. Deer hunts in the South West region of ODFW, for example, recorded 28,349 hunters, who killed 10,386 deer, according to agency records.
“Tribal members participating in the harvest will represent a very small fraction of the hunting and fishing practiced in southwestern Oregon,” said ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy.
The Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association is watching the new program carefully.
Tyler Dungannon, conservation coordinator for the OHA, said his group is eagerly awaiting harvest data from the tribe to assess impacts. The OHA views the tribe as a key partner in developing state and federal management plans and policies that improve deer and elk herds for the benefit of all Oregonians, Dungannon said.
“Tribes are powerful entities with the ability to influence land and predator management decisions, which benefits hunters in Oregon,” says Dungannon.
The Shell Tribe consists of about 1,200 members worldwide, with just under 600 members in the five-county area, Ogan says.
The tribe’s hunting seasons are described in a brochure sent to members detailing how they can use their tribal identification as a hunting license and how to obtain free big game tags from tribal leaders.
“I think it’s hard to look at this brochure and say there will be fewer opportunities for (others),” Ogan says.
For black-tailed deer, the tribal limit is three deer per year, and only one can be an antlerless doe. The tribes had an all-weapons season from Aug. 13-26, and then must hunt in conjunction with the state’s traditional archery season which runs Aug. 27-Sept. 25.
After that, tribesmen have a season with any legal weapon from September 26 through November 30, and then a dollar-only season with any legal weapon for the entire month of December.
Other Oregonians may kill a male deer in these areas either with a bow or a rifle during limited seasons.
Tribal members can kill one elk per year under seasonal structures, which for non-tribal members generally cover one week per year for rifle hunters and four weeks for bow hunters.
The tribe’s elk season began August 13 and runs non-stop through December 31, with some seasonal limitations on weapon use and whether elk are allowed.
All tribal permit holders will be required to report success or failure, Ogan said.
The agreement with the ODFW also allows for year-round hunting of black bear and cougar, and up to eight wild turkeys per year, the brochure says.
For the past five years, tribal members have been reimbursed for licenses and tags they purchased from ODFW, Ogan says.
The tribe and ODFW are negotiating subsistence fishing rules that could be in place as early as the end of this year.
Issues include tribal harvesting of wild rainbow trout and spring chinook outside of current restrictions that include one of the only opportunities to kill wild winter rainbow trout in all 48 states. lower.
Ogan called it “irresponsible and racist” to assume or suggest the tribe will seek gillnet fishing opportunities on the Rogue and other regional rivers as part of this negotiation.
“There is absolutely no proposal that would change anything from the traditional rod and reel opportunity,” says Ogan.
Mark Freeman covers the environment for the Mail Tribune. Contact him at 541-776-4470 or email him at [email protected]