Of all the reasons that people choose to come to Northeast Oregon, hunting comes in near the top of the list.

For visitors and longtime residents alike, the lure of our forests, mountains, canyons, and high lakes during the fall is irresistible. The environment alone is worth the effort.

The challenge of matching wits with the wily elk, rag-horned bucks, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats is icing on the cake.

There is no question that for many people, hunting is nothing short of a spiritual experience -- a time to get in touch with nature, a time to bond with friends and relatives, and a time to give thanks for the incredible beauty of the world around us.

Those who understand the spiritual nature of hunting realize that it is an important part of our culture and that it provides many benefits to our society and our world. For example, recent studies are starting to prove what native Americans have known all along, that hunting is an important rite of passage that fosters respect for all things. These same studies are revealing that youngsters who hunt are less likely to be involved in violent crime later on in life.

In this edition we hope to give our readers young a taste of what hunting is really about, which is why we have included stories about hunting ethics, conservation, and safety -- all important aspects of this sport.

Hunting -- like other aspects of life in rural America -- unfortunately is under attack by an increasingly urban society which does not understand or appreciate its many benefits. One of the challenges we have seen in Wallowa County is the drastic reduction in our prized elk population, which has plummeted over the past five or six years. During this time wildlife biologists have ruled out all but one cause -- an explosion in the population of large predators since 1995 when urban voters passed a measure outlawing the use of dogs in bear and cougar hunts. As a result, the number of tags has been reduced from 7,000 to 4,400 corresponding with reductions in the elk herd. This is a significant change not only in terms of culture but also in terms of economy, with hunters spending an estimated $1,000 a year on the sport, according to the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The good news is that trend is starting to turn around through a combination of more aggressive management, the issuance of fewer hunting tags, and signs that hunters are beginning to figure out how to hunt mountain lions -- and reduce the impact these animals have on deer and elk. Hunters are a resourceful lot.

There are other brights spots for hunting in Wallowa County as well, including a burgeoning mountain goat population and one of the premier Rocky Mountain bighorn management programs in North America. The introduction of wild turkeys has been a resounding success.

For those who are heading out into the field this fall, we wish you the best. Have a happy -- and above all, safe -- hunt.

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