HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
The history of modern firearm hunting in western Washington turned a page last Saturday, opening day of the 2013-14 general hunting season.
Once the most productive and popular hunting unit (667) in the state, Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree farm was habitually inundated with a small army of deer, bear and cougar hunters. Last year, it was estimated approximately 3,000 hunters and 1,200 private vehicles entered the farm opening day of the general hunting season. But those days are long gone. The farm is no longer open to the general public and hunting populace unless they have a Weyerhaeuser issued recreational access permit.
Last year, Weyerhaeuser announced that starting Aug. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, all access (motorized and non-motorized) to its Vail and Pe Ell tree farms would require a recreational access pass. The company’s announcement surprised the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and recreational community, but it should have been expected. Other timber companies have been charging an access fee for years, so it was only a matter of time before Weyerhaeuser joined the club.
Weyerhaeuser issued 750 Vail recreational access permits that were sold only on line for $150 each. Holders of a permit will have access (including motorized) to Vail’s nearly 155,000 acres through December.
Hunters who have access to the Vail Tree Farm can expect some excellent hunting opportunities, but what about those hunters who are locked out? Their hunting opportunities could be somewhat limited if they elect or are not able to purchase an access permit from other timber companies or private land owners. However, hunting is allowed on WDFW-managed lands and Department of Natural Resource (DNR) land, but access to DNR land requires a state-issued Discover Pass.
Weyerhaeuser’s decision to charge an access fee resulted in a good deal of grumbling and grousing throughout the hunting community. However, it is ironic the same amount of displeasure has not been directed toward state legislators in an effort to pressure them into revoking legislation requiring hunters and fishermen to purchase a Discover Pass to access DNR land. The annual pass cost is $30 or $35 if purchased at a licensed dealer, by phone or online, and is transferrable between two vehicles. One-day passes cost $10 or $11.50, also if purchased at a licensed dealer, by phone or online.
I can’t help but think how hunting has changed in western Washington over the last few years and will probably change even more in the coming years. While the future of modern firearm hunting this side of the Cascades is somewhat cloudy, one thing is certain. Hunting will never be the same again in western Washington or Weyerhaeuser’s Vail and Pe Ell tree farms.