OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking volunteers to participate in a cooperative arrangement that gave hunters access to approximately 262,000 acres of private timberlands near Mount St. Helens last year.
For the second straight year, Weyerhaeuser Company is willing to provide special elk permit hunters with additional motorized access to miles of private logging roads on the St. Helens Tree Farm – provided that enough volunteers can be found to assure a safe and orderly hunt.
Key tasks for volunteers include orienting hunters, staffing access points and maintaining safety buffers between hunters and active Weyerhaeuser operations, said Sandra Jonker, regional wildlife manager for WDFW.
“We got off to a good start last year with 54 volunteers, and hope to increase participation this year,” Jonker said. “As before, the amount of timberland that will be opened to hunting will be directly proportional to the number of volunteers that sign up.”
To participate in the St. Helens Land Access Program, volunteers can sign up at the following places:
Participants will be required to attend one of five orientation sessions scheduled later this year at the Longview Public Utilities District auditorium, 961 12th Ave. in Longview. Sessions will begin at 6 p.m. on Sept. 11, Oct. 2, Oct. 30, Nov. 17 and Nov. 24.
Volunteer organizations, led by the Southwest Washington Land Access Coalition, have secured funding to reimburse volunteers for mileage accrued as participants in the program.
Other partners in the program include Eyes In the Woods, Cowlitz Game & Anglers, Washington State Archer Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Yacolt Burn Sportsmen Club, Vancouver Wildlife League and the Washington State Bowhunters.
The partnership between WDFW, Weyerhaeuser and the volunteer organizations is designed to expand hunter access to portions of the St. Helens Tree Farm that lie within game management units (GMUs) 520 (Winston), 524 (Margaret), 550 (Coweeman) and 556 (Toutle).
Jonker said the access program – combined with the issuance of 1,400 additional special hunting permits – contributed to an increase in harvest levels last year throughout the Mount St. Helens elk herd, a key management goal for the department and private forestland owners. The herd is the largest of the 10 herds in Washington state, she said.
“The department’s management plan calls for reducing the herd’s size to about 10,000 animals over five years to bring the number of animals into balance with available habitat,” Jonker said. “We want to thank Weyerhaeuser and all the volunteers participating in the St. Helens Land Access Program for their help in this joint effort.”
The Mount St. Helens Elk Herd plan, adopted in 2006, is available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/00771/.