April 29, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife may cut nine positions in Northeast Oregon to balance its budget for the 2003-2005 biennium.

The ODFW is facing a projected shortfall of $7.9 million and thus will have to make reductions, said Lindsay Ball, the ODFW's director Monday at Eastern Oregon University.

Ball spoke at a meeting to gather input on the ODFW's proposed 2003-2005 budget. The ODFW is facing a shortfall because of increasing operating expenses.

A preliminary proposal calls for the ODFW to cut 55.5 positions statewide to balance its budget. Under the plan, the ODFW would cut the following positions in Northeast Oregon:

• The Grande Ronde watershed district manager position.

• Two assistant district biologists in Enterprise and one assistant district biologist in

La Grande, Baker City, Pendleton and John Day.

• One technician in Baker City and Heppner. The technicians do things such as help with habitat improvement projects and deal with property damage caused by wildlife.

Wednesday many people told Ball that they do not want the ODFW to cut any of its district biologists.

"If I was commissioner, it (biologists) would be the last thing I would cut,'' said Mack Birkmaier of Joseph.

He said that district biologists are integral to the ODFW in part because they have an excellent working knowledge of the wildlife in their area.

Jim Soares of Wallowa


"They are the agency as far as I am concerned,'' Soares said.

Soares noted that the population counts conducted by biologists are extremely valuable in the process of maintaining the status and health of wildlife


The proposed ODFW cuts also call for the agency to make significant cuts in its wildlife damage; Green Forage; and Deer, Enhancement and Restoration (DEAR) programs.

Several people who spoke at Monday's meeting said that these programs are of great value to landowners and should not be cut.

A number of people also said that the ODFW should cut more administrative positions before it cuts things like biologists and landowner assistance programs.

Ball, though, said that this wouldn't be feasible because the ODFW has already made significant reductions at its administrative office in Portland.

"I don't know how we could keep the agency running mechanically if we make more cuts at headquarters. Headquarters has been pared to a bare minimum,'' Ball said.

The ODFW's budget proposal calls for increases in licenses and fees to help it cope with its shortfall. Birkmaier and a number of other people at the meeting said that hunting and fishing fees in Oregon are less than those in many other states. They suggested the ODFW's fees should be raised as a result.

"Our fees should come up to what they are in other states,'' Birkmaier said.

The ODFW must present a proposed 2003-2005 budget to the governor's office by December.

Monday's town hall meeting was the fifth of eight being conducted throughout the state to collect public input on the ODFW's proposed budget.