State tries to open additional lands for public hunting

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Over the past few years, hunters, anglers and hikers have been shut out of more private timberlands in Southwest Washington. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hopes to reverse the trend by having some employees concentrate on access issues.

The private lands biologist in Southwest Washington is Nicholle Stephens, 30. She’s been in the position for a year, following work with geese and Western pond turtles.

“Because we have so many private industrial lands, my major focus is working with them,” she said. Stephens’ job duties include arranging hunting access and habitat improvement projects.

Tree growers want hunting on their lands because deer and elk browsing damages young trees, she said. However, gates have been closed because of vandalism, theft of trees and garbage dumping.

“I understand both sides,” Stephens said. “I understand where the hunters are coming from but (companies) need to protect their assets.”

So far, the biggest access program in the region is the department’s arrangement with Weyerhaeuser on the company’s St. Helens Tree Farm.

The agency rounds up volunteers who position themselves at Weyco gates during special permit hunts. Because the volunteers keep people away from active logging operations, the company is willing to allow hunting on land that would otherwise be closed to motorized access.

“They want a safety buffer around those operations,” she said.

WDFW can provide signs that say “Feel Free to Hunt” or “Hunt by Written Permission” for land owners. If land owners who allow hunting with such signs encounter problems, WDFW can help try to resolve them.

WDFW workers and volunteers also pick up trash to facilitate hunting access.

One thing the agency and volunteers can’t override is land closures because of high fire danger, such as is occurring now.

Stephens said the agency offers early and late hunting seasons for archers and muzzleloader hunters so they still have a chance if the early seasons are closed because of fire danger.