OLYMPIA - Hunters are expected to gain access to more private land in Washington state this year than at any time in the past decade, thanks to record sales of special hunting permit applications last spring.
Changes in this year’s application process for special hunting permits increased sales by 85 percent, generating $520,000 in new revenues, said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Of that amount, about $400,000 will be available to develop and implement agreements with private landowners who agree to provide hunters access to their lands, Ware said. The remainder will be used to meet administrative costs associated with changing over to the new system.
"We told hunters we’d use that money to increase access to private lands and that’s what we’re doing," Ware said. "We have staff out across the state talking to farmers, ranchers, timberland managers and other private land owners right now."
Ware said WDFW expects to open up at least 200,000 additional acres to hunting this year under new agreements between the department and private landowners. Some landowners will also receive compensation for planting crops that attract birds or agreeing to accommodate duck blinds on their property.
Ware said the new initiative is designed to reverse the steady decline of land open to hunting due to population growth, suburban sprawl and crowding on public lands. Just over one million acres of private land is currently open to hunting under agreement with WDFW, compared to three million in the late 1990s, he said.
"Here and in other states, hunters consistently rank access to suitable land as one of their top priorities," Ware said. "Enlisting landowners to open their gates to hunters isn’t a new idea, but we are taking an innovative approach to address the cost of meeting that goal."
WDFW’s new approach involved expanding the range of options available to hunters who apply for special permits to hunt deer and elk. Those permits, which are awarded by random drawing, allow successful applicants to hunt at times and places beyond those authorized by a general hunting license.
To improve their chances of receiving a special permit, thousands of hunters purchased applications in multiple categories, boosting sales to a new record.
"This entire effort is supported by hunters, for hunters," Ware said. "The extra money they spent on special-permit applications this year will benefit hunting, whether or not they receive a special permit."
Other beneficiaries of WDFW’s new initiative include private landowners who open their lands and rural communities that provide services to hunters who visit their area, Ware said. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters spend approximately $313 million in Washington each year.
More than 600 Washington landowners currently open their lands to hunters, Ware said. Areas of the state targeted for expanding access include:
- Skagit Basin - WDFW will compensate landowners who plant cover crops for snow geese and allow hunting on their lands. WDFW will also provide incentives to those who allow duck blinds to be constructed on their property. Separate discussions are under way with major timber companies to open their lands to deer and elk hunting under an arrangement similar to that in effect on the St. Helens Tree Farm in southwest Washington. Agreements could potentially open up to 20,000 acres east of Sedro Woolley to hunting.
- Southwestern Forest Land - For the past three years, the Weyerhaeuser Company has opened miles of private timber roads near Mount St. Helens to hunters seven days a week during elk and deer seasons. Now, WDFW is working to get other area timber companies involved. Revenues from special-hunt applications will be used for necessary signage, dumpsters and other costs involved in managing hunter access.
- Chehalis River Basin - Discussions are under way with more landowners to construct duck blinds and give hunters access to their property during next year’s waterfowl season. The long-term goal is to establish more "quality hunts," where hunters could reserve blinds and have a high likelihood of a successful hunt.
- Columbia Basin - Wildlife managers are offering to rent cornfields from landowners who delay plowing corn stubble and give hunters access to their property during waterfowl seasons in Grant and Franklin counties. Funding is available to landowners who maintain and improve their properties for waterfowl.
- Snake River Basin - WDFW will compensate wheat and other dryland crop farmers who provide access to their fields and who plant alfalfa, sweet clover and other flowering plants that enhance pheasant habitat. This funding can supplement payments received by landowners under federal Farm Bill programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program.
- Northeastern and Klickitat Forest Lands - WDFW is actively working with private timberland owners interested in cooperatively managing public hunting access, while maintaining their forestry operations. Incentives help landowners address vandalism, road maintenance, trash dumping and fire hazards.