HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
The Weyerhaeuser Co.’s decision in April to limit access and to charge a fee for entering its Vail and Pe Ell tree farms may have been the death knell to hunting in western Washington as we know it today.
Officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) were informed about the change during a mid-April meeting with Weyerhaeuser, and according to the department, they weren’t asked what they thought about the new policy.
In a recent interview with Andy Walgamott (Northwest Sportsman, July 2013), Anthony Chavez, spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, said the company wants to keep its lands open to the public, but it is becoming more costly to do so. Vandalism, dumping and other damage was the leading cause for implementing the new policy. Both tree farms will restrict access to a limited number of permitholders only. Hunters and the general public will not be allowed to hike, bicycle or ride in on horses.
Chavez also said it is a fair assumption that if the changes at Vail and Pe Ell are successful and work out well for the company and people “who access our lands, we could see this extending to other tree farms.”
A total of 750 permits were issued for Vail and 650 for Pe Ell. The permits were available online for $150 and $200. Weyerhaeuser is now a REIT, or real estate investment trust, which has certain tax, benefits as well burdens to produce dividends for shareholders. One way to increase dividends is to monetize things such as a property’s hunting and recreational access value. Weyerhaeuser’s fee programs have been really successful in the south, and none have failed to work.
It goes without saying, WDFW is not happy with Weyerhaeuser’s new access policy, but there is nothing the department can do about it. Brian Calkins, WDFW lead on private lands access, said, “Undoubtedly, some hunters will jump on the chance to hunt less-pressured big and small game, but those locked out will need to find new areas to hunt, which will undoubtedly lead to crowding and a great deal of hunter dissatisfaction.”
Calkins also said some of Washington’s best hunting grounds have been closed to the general public in the form of waterfowl clubs, but Weyerhaeuser’s new policy will probably impact considerably more sportsmen.
In a study conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va. a few years ago, it was found that access problems was the leading reason for hunter dissatisfaction, and that not enough available hunting access was the significant factor that influenced hunters decision to stop hunting. WDFW has done a pretty good job of persuading private landowners in eastern Washington to open their lands to hunting and other recreational activities, but the challenge now is how to curtail the spread of limited access and charging fees for entry. Asking timber companies and other private landowners to turn their backs on a money-making program will be a tough nut to crack.
It is pretty hard to stop a runaway train, and sometimes it is never stopped. Currently, roughly six million acres in western Washington are privately owned by timber companies.