Elk and deer hunters are obsessive about our chosen pastime. We invest countless hours in scouting and preparing for the fall hunt. We travel hundreds of miles in search of elk, deer and other game animals. We spend thousands of dollars every year on equipment, optics, fuel and gadgets. Yet without access to high quality lands to hunt on, all this expense and preparation is wasted.
Oregon hunters are facing the very real threat that we could lose access to hundreds of thousands of acres of quality hunting lands within our state. Weyerhauser, the giant logging corporation that owns 2.6-million acres in Oregon and Washington, recently announced it was closing much of its forestlands to the general public. From now on, hunters will have to buy a special permit costing up to $350 if they want to hunt on those lands even though the elk and deer belong to the public.
But Weyerhauser's new "pay to play" arrangement isn't the worst threat to access for hunting in Oregon. The Oregon State Land Board, made up of Gov. John Kitzhaber, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, and Secretary of State Kate Brown, is seriously considering a proposal to privatize the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest just east of Coos Bay. In future years, hunters visiting the Elliott may be greeted by locked gates and "no trespassing" signs rather than open public access. Three parcels of this public forest, totaling over 1,400 acres, have already been sold to logging companies and at least one of them has been posted with "private property" signs.
I have explored and enjoyed the Elliott for many years, and the countless miles I have walked in this beautiful place have showed me just how special it is. For those willing to work for it, the Elliott provides fantastic opportunities for elk and deer hunting—free of charge. It also contains spawning streams for some of the strongest salmon and steelhead runs left in the Oregon Coast Range. This forest is also unique among Oregon's state public lands in that it contains more than 41,000 acres of old-growth forest over 100 years old. The opportunity to hunt and explore among these giants is an experience to be treasured — and passed down to our children and grandchildren.
But all this is being jeopardized by politicians in Salem.
The Oregon Land Board is considering privatizing the Elliott because of a dispute over logging levels. A portion of the revenues from the Elliott go to support the Oregon Common School Fund, and though the actual dollar amount that makes it to classrooms is tiny, logging also pays for a huge state bureaucracy. In 2011, an effort to nearly double logging levels on the Elliott sparked a fight with environmental interests. The state lost that battle, and now rather than crafting a balanced, sustainable approach to managing the Elliott, Oregon is considering selling it off to private corporations so they can log it instead.
Hunters tend to be politically conservative people, and we are reluctant to get involved in battles over logging and environmental rules. But the debate over privatizing the Elliott State Forest — and losing access to even more quality hunting lands — is an issue that should hit home for every hunter on Oregon. We have too much at stake to sit this one out.
Hunters concerned about the loss of access to quality hunting lands should get in touch with Gov. John Kitzhaber, Secretary of State Kate Brown and Treasurer Ted Wheeler and tell them to end any further consideration of privatizing the Elliott State Forest. Instead, they should be focusing on developing a balanced, sustainable plan for this forest. The Elliott should be managed for the conservation of values like elk, salmon, and old-growth, for human needs like clean water, recreation, and responsible timber harvest.
But above all, the Elliott should remain in public hands, for all Oregonians to use and enjoy. No hunter should ever encounter a "no trespassing" sign when visiting the Elliott State Forest.
Marnie Allbritten of Roseburg is a retired Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and a former board member for the Umpqua chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.