The northwest outdoorsman is bleeding; bleeding from wounds inflicted by the continued loss and cost of access, decreasing quality opportunities, and from those wounds self-inflicted. It doesn’t appear that the bleeding will stop any time soon. This article, along with countless passionate conversations among outdoorsmen all over the northwest was sparked by the recent move by Weyerhaeuser to begin charging for access onto their land. Large timber companies charging for access isn’t new. Companies like Green Diamond Timber Co., Hancock, and Rayonier have already been doing this, but the level that Weyerhaeuser has taken it to this year feels like a slap in the face and proves the number of acres that become locked up and only accessible to those willing to pay to play is only going to grow each year.
This year in Washington, Weyerhaeuser will be selling access permits ranging from $75 dollars up to $250, as well as offering up blocks of land for lease. Weyerhaeuser may say that these new fees will help offset the costs associated with littering and vandalism, but I’m not buying it. NOT including the money they will bring in from the leases, Weyerhaeuser stands to make over $3,301,000.00 if they sell all of their permits in Washington. Most of these permits are good for 6 months, but in Oregon, there are certain areas that your access permit is good for only ONE month. And it will cost you $550! That’s right, there are areas that they are selling 40 permits each month from August through January for $550 each. You can’t tell me that that is what it takes to combat dumping and littering in that one area.
These permits are restricted for use by the purchaser, their spouse, and children/grandchildren who are 18 years or under. For me, the implementation of this system and these rules are devastating and have completely changed the way I will be able to hunt with family and friends, and enjoy the simple things the woods have to offer. First off, like many other couples who hunt and fish together, Brady and I aren’t technically married, which means we would have to buy two access permits, per area, that we would want to hunt in together. We already spend hundreds, and hundreds of dollars on licenses, tags, special permits, raffles, and Discover passes as it is to be able to hunt and fish. Now, throw in having to buy up to $500 in Weyerhaeuser access permits to be able to hunt together in an area we are accustomed to hunting. NOT going to happen. Brady and I travel quite a bit on hunting adventures, but with the kids reaching the age where they are beginning to hunt, and having other family and friends who want to share their adventures with us, that’s where these close to home opportunities are SO important to us.
I had one of the best hunting experiences of my life in 2012 while hunting in Weyerhaeuser’s newly formed Artic Permit Area when I was able to guide my mother on her first successful big game hunt of her life. It was a mother daughter experience I will never forget. It’s one that I had hopes of being able to repeat again with other first time hunters. There are so many kids and even adults out there that want to get into hunting, but don’t have the knowledge, equipment, or even the right person to get them started. Closing off more and more acreage every year only makes it harder to make it possible to get these beginners out and provide them with a quality experience that will keep them wanting more. We are losing the next generation hunters.
Normally, when I get the new WA hunting regulation pamphlet in my hands for the first time each spring I’m all smiles. Having those pages in my hand is all it takes to feel an intense sense of excitement and anticipation. It even sparks amazing memories of years past. This year was completely different. In light of the new limited access permits that Weyerhaeuser has announced, my thoughts were nothing more than disgust and aggravation. I would pick up the regulations over and over, staring at the special permit choices for five minutes, then fling them on the floor in frustration.
It is hard enough to draw a special permit in WA, and for you lucky ones that just found out that you did, congrats, but you still have another hurdle to jump before you can actually get on the ground and hunt if that special permit is located on Weyerhaeuser land. You now have to be willing to be willing to buy one of the limited Weyco permits needed to access the land you special permit if for. But what about those people who used up all their points in drawing a special tag, but aren’t one of the few who will be able to buy an access permit for that area? Is WDFW going to give them back their points? No.
Even hunting my own property will be nearly impossible and pointless now. I have a piece of property that I archery hunt elk on every September. This can be such a fun hunt. You can get a lot of hunting in. Part of the reason for this is that if the elk move off of this property to the west, we can either cross the river and stay on them, or if they move to the east off the property, we can just cross the road and continue to hunt them all day long. This year, that all changes. This part of the GMU sits right in between two separate access areas. If the elk cross the river, I theoretically need one $200 Weyco permit to pursue them, but if they cross the road, I will need a completely different $200 permit. That’s $400 in permits if I plan on being able to hunt these elk like I normally do. I hunt this alone sometimes, and even if I did break down and buy one of these permits so that I could continue to hunt these elk, I better be ready to pack out the entire thing by myself. No longer would I be able to call for help to pack out meat, or even come share in the celebration of my success in the field. The rules state nobody is allowed to help pack out meat unless they are also a permit holder for that area.
Hunting is an important piece to wildlife management, and we as the hunters serve as the mechanism for that tool. These timber companies are awarded multiple damage control permits each year to deal with problem wildlife that damage their tree production. How is that going to work with the proposed limited access? Will these companies continue to be awarded these damage permits each year when there are willing hunters standing outside their gates with tags to fill and guns in their hands but no key in their pocket? As damage goes up with decreased harvest, how will this issue be dealt with?
The self-inflicted wounds we face are a result of the competitiveness that I see becoming so prevalent in the sport of hunting and it is ugly to me. I’m not talking about keeping your “honey hole” to yourself, I’m talking about competitiveness that leads people to feel like they need to knock a person down for being successful, and those truly ugly actions and words that can destroy a band of brothers. It creates a situation where it leaves a person with nothing to look forward to. It is what will keep us sportsmen from being able to work together as one and get the sport of hunting and fishing back to what it is really all about, and in a place that we will feel comfortable handing over to our children. The effects of limiting access will funnel the masses into the same areas, and we will see this competition grow.
With what us simple northwest sportsman are facing now, we can’t have this. It will drive more us to give up. We have a hard enough time as it is shedding a positive light on whom we are and why we do what we do to those anti-hunters who are working hard to take away our freedoms to take the field each year. Be proud. Not just of yourself, but your fellow outdoorsman so that we can take back the true experience of hunting.
I like to think that I live a pretty amazing, yet simple lifestyle where our family finds enjoyment from a simple drive in the woods. One of the best things to do with the kids in the summer is drive around the woods and see how many different types of berries we can find. Just thinking about looking into the back seat and seeing Brody’s face light up when he spots a new kind of berry, puts the same smile on my face. I dread the day this summer when he asks to go berry picking and we have to pull out the map to try and figure out where we can and can’t go, and then hope we don’t have to wait in line at the same blackberry bush that others in the same boat got to first.
It’s us simple people who don’t need to spend money on events, movies, or shopping to have a great date night or fun with the family, that stand to lose the most as access goes down and the cost of it goes up. Our family lives an outdoor lifestyle, and these continued access issues are essentially taking away our everyday activities that are a part of who we are and what makes us, us.
We don’t need to open up every single gate and allow people the freedom to drive and ride wherever they want. There are definite benefits to hunting behind gates, and those willing to put in the effort to travel on foot or bike the miles into these closed off areas can see some great hunting grounds. But that’s just it. It’s not unreasonable to be allowed to walk past that gate to pursue game, ride your horse, or pick berries. The wrong group of people is being targeted if these fees are supposed to offset the cost of littering. This is nothing more than a money making scam, and we everyday outdoorsmen are the ones being targeted and are the ones most affected by these drastic changes. A better solution to the littering problems, and a more realistic approach to these large timber companies access programs is out there; let’s work together to find it.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that what we are facing now, isn’t it. Allowing these astronomical fees for a limited amount of access will only get worse if we don’t find a solution. If the timber companies want help from hunters to battle their littering problems, here is a potential solution. As much as I hate ANY new fees, maybe it’s reasonable to charge a small fee such as $25, but this fee would cover you for ALL timber lands, regardless of which company it is. The key to this is anyone who then volunteers a certain number of hours picking up trash and garbage on timber lands, has their $25 access fee waived for that year. This will allow those directly using the lands a chance to be stewards of the land in exchange for access. Seems like a win-win to me. Maybe that isn’t the best solution, but in my opinion it’s better than what we are faced with now.
A must, is supporting our local Governments who are willing to step up and make a change. Grays Harbor County is hopefully the first of many Counties to put some pressure on these large timber companies. On June 23rd, Grays Harbor County Commissioners will have a hearing on an Ordinance that would merge the Current Use Timber Land classification into Designated Forest Land program, terminating the Current Use Timber Land classification, and would prohibit commercial recreation fees for access to land classified in the Designated Forest Land program. This is a meeting that ALL hunters should attend, whether you live in Grays Harbor or not. We need to get the ball rolling on changing the current situation.
If you have kids, you should be scared to death for the future that is shaping up for them. It saddens me to think that gone are the days that we can throw the kids in the back of the truck with a day full of snacks, with no big expectations other than making the same simple memories we did as kids. A change is needed to stop the path we are being forced to travel and gain back the freedom of the outdoors, what it has to offer, and give our kids a chance to make some life-long memories. Change can’t come from a few who are willing to speak up while the masses feel they are forced to adopt the “oh well” mentality. It’s not ok. It’s worth standing up for. If you are truly passionate about your hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreational lifestyle, I suggest you step up and help make it clear that the current system is flawed, is completely unreasonable, and do your part help find a solution to this mess. Let’s stop the bleeding.