For four years, Skagit Valley upland scattergunners have had no local option for hunting pheasants after their long-running delta stomping grounds at Skagit Wildlife Area Headquarters were flooded to help rebuild native chinook salmon stocks.
This fall, however, an agreement with the Washington Department of Natural Resources has opened up nearly 500-acres of state forest land, well above sea level, west of Interstate 5 and the Bow Hill Road interchange (Exit 236).
Just 14 miles south of Bellingham, this block, known as the Bow Hill Designated Pheasant Release Site, is about a half mile west of the freeway in the land section between Bow Hill Road on the south and close to Colony Road on the north and bounded by Hobson and Ershig county roads on its east and west sides.
Bird hunters who pursue their feathered quarry in Whatcom County or one of many of the other semi-wooded Western Washington designated pheasant release sites will recognize in this locale many of the same habitat characteristics as are found on the Lake Terrell, Intalco and BP Cherry Point release sites.
The recent harvest of timber from the parcel combined with some existing pasturage has created about 245 acres of open ground, plus, like the Whatcom Wildlife Area sites, birds can be pursued in the remaining 200-plus acres of semi-open, mixed-stand wooded areas. Some brushed swathes have been cut through the forested areas by WDFW staff, much as they do on the Intalco and Lake Terrell Units, to aid hunters in moving about this area.
Overall, in terms of huntable 'elbow room', the new Bow Hill DPRS is about the same size as the former Headquarters locale on Fir Island in the Skagit River delta.
Off-limits areas do exist at Bow Hill in the form of several homes lots or other in-holdings on the block's fringes along the county roads. They are posted closed to entry with additional safety buffers.
Also, a cleared petroleum pipeline right-of-way running north and south is used as the posted eastern boundary of the site, so hunters may not prospect for birds out to Hobson Road.
Besides these no-hunt zones, elsewhere where there is direct road frontage, a 100-foot no-shooting zone is deemed to exist, which complies with WDFW's Skagit County-directed bird hunting regulations.
Parking for and entry to the Bow Hill public bird hunting site is restricted to one location at 5696 Ershig Road (on the west side 1/4 mile north of the intersection of Bow Hill and Ershig roads). The fenced lot has an identification sign and is directly across from the mandatory entry point that has a foot-bridge spanning the road ditch. Hunters parking or entering the site elsewhere may be subject to citation.
Arrangements for the use of this site were negotiated by the WDFW's Private Lands Access Program biologist in Region Four, Brandon Roozen, while in-season operational responsibility for the site, principally the coordination of weekly pheasant releases, is vested in the Skagit Wildlife Area staff.
Three times a week (Friday and Saturday evenings, plus one mid-week evening) between 50-60 birds will be released at Bow Hill.
For Skagit and North Snohomish County pheasant hunters, the department's Leque Island holdings (about 225 upland acres) on the southwest side of the General Mark Clark Bridge on State Route 532 at Stanwood also will be stocked with birds from Skagit Wildlife Area pens.
Also, for the month of October or some shorter period until it interferes with waterfowl hunting activities, the Samish West 90 Unit on Samish Island Road can be hunted for pheasants. Birds were only released there for the youth and seniors hunts in September and will be few and far by now, however mop-up is permitted as long as hunters have a Western Washington Pheasant Permit among their other hunting license documents.
WILDFIRE CONDITIONS PERSIST
The prolonging of unseasonable ultra-dry conditions into October across Washington is affecting access, camping and use of open flames on public as well as private lands even here in Northwest Washington.
Should this rainless period reach Saturday, Oct. 13 it will affect where and how modern firearms deer hunters may pursue their quarry.
The wildfire potential is not quite as extreme here in Whatcom and Skagit counties as it is in some other regions of the state, but it does have land managers on edge and has prompted the continuation of general restrictions on the use of fire as well as spark and flame producing things in the outdoors.
Effective on virtually all lands here are a series of emergency orders issued by the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Governor's Office. They are:
- The Governor's executive order banning all burning outdoors on private lands until further notice.
- The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Supervisor's emergency order issued in mid-September banning fires, campfires, briquette or stove fires, except portable stoves or lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel, outside of developed recreation (campgrounds with fire pits) sites. It also prohibits smoking on the national forest outdoors, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material. This order is online at fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5391392.pdf .
- The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife directive issued statewide Sept. 18 banning fires and campfires, smoking (unless in an enclosed location), welding, chain-saws and other internal combustion powered tools, target shooting (except at established range sites) and use of off-road vehicles in backcountry areas on all WDFW lands statewide. The WDFW announcement is on line at wdfw.wa.gov/news/sep1812b/ .
- The Washington Department of Natural Resources emergency order issued Oct. 4 extending the ban on all outdoors fires and campfires on all state, private and tribal forest lands across the state that are under its management protection or administration. The WDNR announcement is at dnr.wa.gov/RecreationEducation/News/Pages/2012_10_04_dry_conditions_nr.aspx .
The federal bureaus of land management and reclamation as well as other national forests in Washington have similar posted directives and all (local, state or federal) emergency orders governing outdoors fires and smoking will remain in effect until further notice.
Hunters, especially those heading from here to other areas of the state, should check before leaving to find out if they can even enter their intended hunting destinations.
Some locales, watersheds or roads systems are closed altogether to public entry because of ongoing fire-fighting efforts and other lands in some regions have been closed to all entry because the forest conditions are simply too dry to allow persons to be in those areas. Southwest Washington is one region of the state where timber companies are abiding by the 'absolute' closures.
State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark characterizes the current wildfire potential especially in Western Washington as extreme and unprecedented for this time of year and he, as the official in charge of the state's wild fire fighting resources, is urging the public to be very cautious when outdoors.
ACCESS HERE BY OWNERSHIP
County deer hunters seeking places close to home to stalk their black-tailed quarry will find much the same access opportunities as they have had in recent years when the general season begins Saturday, Oct. 13.
Locked gates will greet hunters at many locales, especially on private timberlands, but the 'vehicleless' access also can provide a degree of exclusivity not normally found on open 'driveable' logging roads.
Sierra Pacific Industries has significant timber holdings in the Bald Mountain, Coal Mountain, northeast Sumas Mountain, Canyon Lake and Stewart Mountain areas in Whatcom County.
In addition, Sierra owns major forested tracts in the upper South Fork Nooksack and on Wickersham Mountain (Lyman Hill), Mount Josephine, and Grandy Creek areas, together with its timber acreage on the east side of Lake Shannon and holdings east of Rockport, all in Skagit County.
Western Washington Manager Tom Nelson said that the company is allowing public entry on foot or horseback and by mountain bike to hunt on its Whatcom and Skagit properties.
Nelson said that with modified 'hoot owl' operations in effect here, some forestry operations are taking place in early morning hours and some company gates may be open for industrial traffic only. He advises that under Sierra Pacific policies, motorists are not allowed and should not drive passed any open gate since they risk among other things getting locked in.
Also, Sierra does not allow overnight camping or fires of any kind on its holdings, said Nelson.
Nelson did point out that in several locales where timber holding ownerships are interspersed, vehicles may be driven on some SPI roads.
When parking vehicles near gates, operators should use care not to block them or the driven portion of the roadway.
Longview Timber, LLC also has major holdings in Whatcom County in the Bowman and Blue Mountain areas, together with significant forested tracts in the Finney Block south of the Skagit River centering on Day Creek and the Cultus, Haystack and Bald mountain areas.
Longview representatives could not be reached for comment for this story but in recent years Longview Timber properties have been open (unless posted otherwise) to the public for hunting during state-sanctioned seasons, though entry is limited to walk-in or ride-in methods via horseback or mountain bike. No motorized vehicle access is allowed at any time by the company.
Hunters and other visitors may enter Longview Timber's property for day recreation trips, but overnight stays are not allowed nor are fires of any kind.
Bloedel Timberlands and Seefeld Corporation representatives also could not be reached for information concerning access to their lands, however both historically have allowed walk- or ride-in (mountain bike or horseback) day visits to many of their respective holdings.
Bloedel owns timber tracts in the north Blanchard Mountain, west Lake Samish and South Fork Nooksack areas, while Seefeld Corporation, through its manager International Forestry Consultants, controls lands on the southwest side of Sumas Mountain and on the north end of Stewart Mountain east of Lake Whatcom in Whatcom County.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources manages non-federal public forest lands throughout the state including significant holdings here in Whatcom County on Sumas, Red and Slide mountains as well as in the Van Zandt Dike and Middle Fork Nooksack Valley.
In Skagit County, state block holdings are found north of Hamilton, on Alger and Blanchard mountains, in the lower Baker River Valley and on the west and south sides of Cultus Mountain.
DNR Baker District Manager Steve Jennison said that hunters can expect many state forest roads providing access directly onto state-owned lands in Whatcom and Skagit counties to be open for the general deer season.
Jennison cautioned hunters and other visitors to state forest lands to observe campfire and smoking bans or restrictions since the unusually dry forest conditions are not even being relieved to any extent by moisture recovery from night-time dew.
Certain state forest roads will remain gated because the routes cross intervening privately owned lands for which DNR does not have authority to allow public access or there are other management issues that require restricting motor vehicle operations.
South Blanchard Mountain, Alger Mountain and the Christie Creek roads have been gated and closed to vehicular access because of past abuses such as garbage dumping, forest products theft, unrestrained vehicle operation off road and indiscriminate shooting, said Jennison.
Blanchard Mountain is now in a state fish and wildlife department imposed firearms restriction area (west of Interstate 5) where it is unlawful to use high-powered rifles during the modern firearms deer season.
Roads on DNR-managed forest lands on Red Mountain, Slide Mountain, the Van Zandt Dike, Racehorse Creek and the Middle Fork Nooksack in Whatcom County and on the Harry Osborne State Forest in Skagit County will be open for motor vehicle travel.
Jennison also reminds all visitors to state forest lands that a Discover Pass must be purchased and conspicuously displayed on any motor vehicle operated on WDNR managed roads and lands.
All Washington State Parks and Recreation lands (state parks such as Larrabee and Rockport) are off-limits to hunting during any season.
On the Mount Baker Ranger District of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Northwest Washington deer hunters will find the majority of forest roads open for the general season deer hunt.
Any street-legal vehicle may be driven on currently open and non-gated forest roads, but unlicensed recreation machines are not permitted either on main and secondary roads nor anywhere off-road (including inactive logging spurs) on the national forest.
Some district roads including the Dillard Ridge and Sandy Creek routes are off-limits to vehicles entirely and are closed and gated year-round.
It is advisable to contact the local National Forest Ranger District or Bureau of Land Management office for detailed information about travel restrictions in the area you intend to hunt.
Hunting, in conformity with state regulations, by law, is allowed in many national recreation areas under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service including the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
It is unlawful to hunt or recover fallen game animals inside the boundaries of any national park.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoor.