Montana hunters are extremely fortunate to have over 30 million acres of public land to hunt. In Northwest Montana we have an addition 900,000 acres of Plum Creek and Stoltze land for hunting. Since most Plum Creek and Stoltze timber land is intermingled with public land, these private timber lands also provide access to hundreds of thousands of acres of public land.
Free public recreation access to corporate timber lands is viewed by many Montana hunters as a right. It isnít. Public recreation access on private land, including corporate timber land, is a privilege, not a right.
Earlier this week I was doing some work in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. Their deer season opened last Saturday, so I had lots of company in the forest land.
I passed dozens of hunting camps on both National Forest and Plum Creek land. On Monday, I stopped to visit with a group of hunters camped on a high ridge overlooking a large basin. They were actually camped on Plum Creek land. They lived in the Seattle area. They planned to hunt there for a week, then shift their hunting to a Western Washington tree farm owned by Weyerhauser.
To have hunting privileges on Weyerhaeuser land, each hunter had to purchase a $250 hunting permit. This gave them the privilege to camp and hunt on an 80,000-acre tree farm. Only 500 hunting permits were issued for this tree farm. Surprisingly, they were delighted to have this hunting privilege for only $250.
Here in Montana, we can hunt 900,000 acres of corporate timber land free. Lucky us! But each year Montana timber land managers scratch their heads trying to understand why some members of the public seem to under-appreciate free use of corporate land.
Last month while working in the Blackfoot area, I came across dozens of road gates. Timber land owners erect gates for a variety of reasons including to provide for wildlife security, enhance hunting quality, protecting water quality and prevent timber theft.
It was hard to find a gate-locking system that was not shot full of holes. Some gates showed signs that trucks had attempted to pull them out. Each year these timber companies spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to protect their property while accommodating free public use.
It is no wonder that timber companies in other parts of the country charge fees for hunting, camping and fishing, trying to recoup some of their costs caused by public vandalism.
It is important that all hunters and other recreationists in Montana help enforce the rules for using private timber lands. Rule number one is to obey all road closures. A closure device may be a gate, earth berm or a simple sign.
Also, do not block gates. Company workers and law enforcement people may have to get through the gate. Plum Creek does not allow any motorized use behind gates and berms. Stoltze allows off-highway motor vehicles behind its gates but both companies prohibit any cross-country travel with motorized vehicles. Stay on established roads.
Perhaps the most important help that responsible hunters can do to help monitor responsible use of corporate land is by being an extension of the ears and eyes of game wardens. If you see improper use of corporate forest land during hunting season, turn in such information to game wardens. Call TIP-MONT: 800-847-6668. Thanks!