By MITCH LIES
HALSEY, Ore. -- Two years ago, farmer Galen Kropf put up flags to divert geese from his grass seed fields in the south Willamette Valley.
It worked, he said. The geese all went to his neighbors.
Last year the neighbors put up flags.
The geese, Kropf said, eventually ignored the flags and destroyed 11 acres of his annual ryegrass fields and reduced the yield on 70 percent of his acreage.
This year, Kropf participated in an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife program that pays farmers a per-acre rate to allow hunters onto fields. Funds for the program come from the federal voluntary public access and habitat incentive program. The grant program was authorized as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Kropf originally had his doubts about the program.
"When you invite out the public, you never know what you're going to get," he said. "But the hunters' ethic and sportsmanship and respect for the land was A-one."
And, Kropf said, his crop looks good.
"I never had a goose problem until three days after the (goose-hunting) season ended (on Jan. 29)," he said. "I put out some eagle silhouettes, and I haven't had a problem since."
Kropf said he is re-applying to participate next year.
He made a little over $2,000 by opening 900 acres to hunters, he said. But it was the decrease in goose damage that most impressed him.
"That's the biggest benefit," he said, "not the money."
Brandon Reishus, a game bird biologist from the ODFW, said about 250,000 geese inhabit the Willamette Valley during the fall and winter. The vast majority are migratory Canada cacklers, he said.
Geese are voracious feeders, Kropf said, and can destroy a crop in a matter of hours.
"You can sit there and watch them grazing, and they'll just move like a lawn mower across a field," he said.
In the hunter-access program, called the Open Fields Proposal, ODFW installs signs designating where hunters can park and where they can hunt. The department patrols properties enrolled in the program. Because the program is covered by Oregon's recreational use statute, farmers aren't liable for injury that may occur on their property during program use.
The department recently recommended the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission increase program funding. That could open up $1.35 million for the program for the 2012-13 hunting season. Last year, the department distributed $212,372 in the program.
Money allocated in the program can be used statewide, said Matt Keenan, ODFW's Access and Habitat program coordinator. But, Keenan said, the department is focusing on the Willamette Valley. That is where the bulk of geese inhabit, and there is a shortage of hunting opportunities in the valley, he said.
Kropf wholly endorsed the program, saying, "I didn't have any negatives."
Still, he said, he hesitated to speak out in support of the program. He didn't want to give his neighbors any ideas.