OLYMPIA – Hunters could gain daily access—during special-permit elk hunts—to up to 200,000 acres of private timberland near Mount St. Helens this fall, if enough volunteers step forward to help the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coordinate the hunt.
Under a new program with WDFW, the Weyerhaeuser Company hopes to allow hunters in motorized vehicles to use certain logging roads on the north end of the St. Helens Tree Farm seven days a week during special-permit elk hunts. In previous years, gates to those roads were open to motorized access only on weekends.
As part of the program, the amount of land the timber company opens to motorized access will be directly proportional to the number of volunteers WDFW recruits to staff access points, post signs, distribute information to hunters, and other tasks associated with the elk hunt, said Dave Ware, game manager for the department.
“Some of the special-permit elk hunts overlap during other general season hunts,” said Ware. “If enough volunteers are available to manage access, the areas open during the special-permit hunts will also be open for the general season hunts.”
To enlist volunteers, WDFW has sought the help of a number of outdoor organizations, including the Southwest Washington Land Access Coalition, Eyes in the Woods, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, Cowlitz Game and Anglers, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Washington State Bow Hunters, Yacolt Burn Sportsman Club, and the Vancouver Wildlife League.
“This program could open up some terrific elk-hunting opportunities,” Ware said. “We really appreciate Weyerhaeuser’s willingness to open additional lands during the week to elk hunting and the support we’re getting from volunteer groups. Volunteers are really the key to the success of this new program.”
More than 1,300 hunters have drawn special permits to hunt for elk in the section of the St. Helens Tree Farm affected by the program. Weyerhaeuser lands included under the program include game management areas 524 (Margaret) and 556 (Toutle), as well as portions of 520 (Winston) and 550 (Coweeman).
WDFW is enlisting a strong base of volunteers to ensure that hunters, Weyerhaeuser employees, and the environment remain safe and protected during the elk-hunting season.
“We want to be a good neighbor to area elk hunters, but the safety of our workers—and the hunters, themselves—must be our first priority,” said Ray Arnold, Weyerhaeuser team leader for the company’s St. Helens Tree Farm. “Provided the hunt can be conducted in a safe and orderly fashion, we hope to continue to provide expanded access to elk hunters. The lands we hope to open are located near a number of active logging operations. A key role of the volunteers will be to keep hunters safely separated from these work areas,” he said.
Ware estimates that WDFW will need anywhere from four to 64 volunteers per day to help coordinate various elk-hunting seasons on Weyerhaeuser’s land between September and January. He encourages anyone interested in volunteering for that effort to contact WDFW at (360) 915-3475. Eyes in the Woods will also post sign-up information for volunteers on its website at http://www.eyesinthewoods.org/.
Volunteers will be required to complete an orientation on Weyerhaeuser’s safety rules and WDFW’s volunteer guidelines. In addition, WDFW encourages volunteers to participate in the CORT (Crime, Observation and Reporting) training offered by Eyes in the Woods, which provides instruction on how to be a non-confrontational witness for fish and wildlife.
Besides expanding area elk-hunting opportunities, the program with Weyerhaeuser also supports WDFW’s management goals for the Mount St. Helens elk herd, Ware said. Numbering an estimated 12,500 animals, the Mount St. Helens herd is the largest of 10 elk herds in Washington state.
A new elk-management plan approved by the department last winter calls for reducing the herd’s size to about 10,000 animals over the next five years to bring the herd into line with habitat available throughout its range.
“Managed forests can provide excellent wildlife habitat, which, in this case, has contributed to the St. Helens elk herd becoming the largest in the state,” Ware said. “Even in this productive habitat, the land just can’t support the current size of the elk herd, leading to high winter-mortality rates, crop damage and other problems. So, besides expanding elk-hunting opportunities for area hunters, the Weyerhaeuser program is right in line with our herd-management objectives. The key is to enlist enough volunteers to make the most of this new opportunity and keep everyone safe.”