Hunting access is taking a new twist in Southwest Washington as Rayonier starts selling permits for entry to its lands.
The company has announced a new hunting permit program for 46,000 acres near Grays River in Pacific County.
Though private timber companies like Rayonier have restricted access to their lands in recent years, they haven’t charged hunters they do let in.
“Hunting is going to become a rich man’s sport,” said Vern Eaton of Longview, who has been active in hunting access groups. “I hate to see it come,” he said.
Rayonier will sell 175 permits to enter its 31,000-acre Fossil Creek area from Aug. 15 through Dec. 31 for a flat $225.
Hunters also can bid for 30 entry permits to the 15,000-acre Salmon Creek area on Ebay. At the end of the bidding period, whoever has offered the most money will get the permit.
Hunters who get permits may bring a non-hunting companion.
For the past three years, Rayonier has been leasing parcels to groups of hunters. The bid levels for five leases in Grays Harbor County range from $1,317 for 567 acres to $4,124 for 4,615 acres. Clubs get exclusive use of the hunting areas for a year.
The Rayonier permit system brings a new phase to hunting access here.
Until about 10 years ago, hunters and other recreationists were welcome to camp on most private timberlands throughout the year.
Companies started closing their gates because of problems with timber theft, vandalism and garbage dumping. In recent years, most timber companies opened their gates during major hunting seasons — but did not allow overnight camping.
Weyerhaeuser and the Department of Fish and Wildlife have collaborated on a program under which volunteers staff company gates so that special permit hunters can get in.
“We’ve been real fortunate here” with the Weyerhaeuser program, Eaton said.
However, hunting camps have migrated to state and federal land that’s still open.
A plus for hunters under the Rayonier permits is that camping and ATV use will be allowed for permit holders. Most other private timber companies don’t allow ATVs on their lands.
Rayonier still offers free public access for hunting, hiking and other recreation on 300,000 acres of its lands in Washington that aren’t leased or under the permit system. In Pacific County, more than 25,000 acres will still be open for free public access, according to a news release.
Though hunting permit systems are new in Southwest Washington, they’re common elsewhere in the country.
Paul Rice, a Rayonier official based in Florida, said nearly all of the company’s lands in the East are available to hunting only through leases.
“That’s not the approach we wanted to take in Washington,” he said, because of its history of unrestricted access.
Rice said he isn’t aware of any other Washington timber companies with a permit system like Rayonier’s, though other companies are also trying to balance requests for recreation with the need to make a profit.
Rice said that in the future, Rayonier would like to offer another type of permit that doesn’t cost as much as the current $225 pass.
Future permits could resemble the state’s new Discover Pass, which costs $30, and “will have a lot of recreation opportunities, including hunting,” he said.