Weyerhaeuser and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Need Volunteers for Access

Here's a statement that should spark your interest:

"The amount of timberland that can be opened to hunting is directly proportional to the number of volunteers that sign up, so participation is vital to the continuation of this program."

Those are the words of Sandra Jonker, regional wildlife manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She's talking about a cooperative access program between WDFW and the Weyerhaeuser timber company -- a project worthy of Open Country designation.

Weyerhaeuser owns a tremendous amount of timberland across the nation with much of it in the western parts of the country. Those lands represent a substantial chunk of deer and elk habitat that may -- or may not -- be open to public hunting access.

In an effort to ensure that nearly a quarter-million acres of land near Washington's Mount St. Helens is available to public hunting, WDFW has partnered with the timber company to implement a unique access program. And that program needs volunteers to continue.

The system is simple: Weyerhaeuser opens its lands to hunters holding special elk permits for additional motorized access to the St. Helens Tree Farm. All it asks is that volunteers be used to help direct any hunter traffic into areas that are available to hunting.

Volunteers will man access points to ensure all traffic stays on areas that are open and avoid any conflicts with active Weyerhaeuser operations that may be ongoing.

In previous years, the program has attracted about 50-60 volunteers. And, as Jonker stated, the more volunteers, the more access that's available.

This is your chance to help secure public access. To volunteer at the St. Helens Tree Farm, contact WDFW here.

Volunteers must attend a mandatory orientation session and the final offering of this fall will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Cowlitz Public Utility District Office in Longview.

There is perhaps even more focus on this year's project given the recent decision by Weyerhaeuser to implement a paid permit system on some of its Washington properties in addition to taking bids for private leases.

In 2012,Weyerhaeuser introduced a fee permit system on its 155,000-acre Vail Tree Farm in eastern Lewis and Thurston counties as well as on 118,000 acres in the Pe Ell Tree Farm, located in Lewis County.

Weyerhauser made 750 permits available for the Vail property and all sold out quickly at a cost of $150 each. The Pe Ell location sold out of its 650 permits at $200 each.

Weyerhauser representatives have repeatedly said that the intent is not to charge for access at all Weyerhauser locations -- but the fact that area hunters are concerned is understandable.

The St. Helens Tree Farm access program is one that should be duplicated. Volunteers are able to help keep hunters and motorized traffic in the correct areas while also monitoring for the activities that could prompt Weyerhauser to close its lands -- trash dumping, vandalism and theft have all been cited by Weyerhauser as reasons for exploring different access options.

As hunters, we have repeatedly cited loss of access as a primary reason that we spend less time in the woods. Well, here's a program that will ensure increased access. All it takes is someone willing to step up and volunteer.