As wildfires continue to burn across Oregon, some hunters have expressed concern about the potential effects on upcoming hunting seasons this fall.

Greg Jackal, a wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Prineville, said while certain areas of the state might be closed to access, buck deer and bull elk seasons are set to take place as planned.

“We’ve had some people concerned about us closing hunting season, and that’s not something we’re looking at doing right now,” Jackal said. “Every year there are area closures that can affect hunting season, but generally, we’ve never seen the forest close as a whole to all access.”

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management can block access to areas of hunting units near wildfires, Jackal notes.

Hunters will need to plan ahead and know where they can and cannot go for their hunts.

“You could potentially get blocked out of your favorite hunting spot because of a fire,” Jackal says.

“It’s likely that will happen this year (in some areas). But it would be unprecedented to have a forest completely closed.”

General bow season is currently underway and runs through Sept. 24 in most of the state. Controlled buck deer rifle season runs Sept. 30 to Oct. 11 in Central Oregon units, and bull elk rifle seasons are later in October, some starting as early as Oct. 14.

While many bow hunters have endured an extremely smoky season with poor air quality, Jackal says this has been a fairly typical archery season, as this time of year often brings smoke from wildfires and hot weather. The air quality has improved dramatically over the past several days, but the wind could always blow the smoke back to Central Oregon.

“This is an unprecedented summer with the amount of smoky days,” Jackal said. “So maybe some health concerns, but not too much concern (for hunters). Folks just have to make the decision of whether they want to be out there.”

Jackal added that some ODFW officials checked hunters during Labor Day weekend and they heard few complaints about the smoke.

One drawback to smoky air, though, is a reduction in visibility. Hunters who prefer to glass across areas of land with binoculars might find it more difficult to see animals.

“Definitely with the visibility being diminished, that affects hunters,” Jackal said. “The lack of ability to glass animals … it’s tough when you can’t see as far as you normally can.”

As far as poor air quality affecting the animals themselves, Jackal says there is likely little effect on big game.

“I wouldn’t think so. I’ve never read a study that looks at the smoke effects on wildlife,” he says. “But we do have collared animals out there (that are monitored), and we don’t see any major changes in their behavior.”

Jackal adds that most wildlife possess instincts that keep them out of harm’s way of fire, unless they somehow get trapped in a canyon.

The smoky air has few if any negative effects on fish, according to Brett Hodgson, a Bend-based ODFW fisheries biologist. The smoke does, however, keep temperatures lower, which can lead to a minor health benefit for the fish. Typically this time of year, Hodgson explains, trout are suffering from high water temperatures in some rivers and lakes. The smoky air can sometimes drop the air temperature, thereby dropping the water temperature.

Certain areas of concern, the biologist noted, are the Middle Deschutes River downstream of Bend and smaller streams in the Ochoco Mountains.

“Those fish populations can be stressed from the heat,” Hodgson said. “Anything above low- to mid-70s (water temperature), it’s harmful to trout.”

While fishing does not necessarily require high levels of exertion, Hodgson did warn anglers about spending all day on the water should the Central Oregon air quality return to unhealthy levels.

“If they’re susceptible to smoky conditions, they should be mindful of health hazards and their own health,” Hodgson said. “I would be conservative. There’s a lot of other days in the year when you can go fishing in clear air.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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