WDFW Private Lands Program: Enhancing Public Hunting Access
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has established the Private Lands Program to accomplish two main objectives: restore and enhance wildlife habitat and expand public recreational access to private lands. This program is a collaborative effort involving WDFW Private Lands Biologists, who work statewide to offer technical support to private landowners. Their mission is to enhance wildlife habitat, bolster public support for wildlife conservation, and increase hunting and recreational opportunities through the WDFW Private Lands Access Program.
Access to Private Lands for Hunting: Cost-Free and Expanding
A notable feature of the Private Lands Access Program is that enrolled private lands are accessible to hunters at no cost. This initiative was further supported in 2020 by a federal Voluntary Public Access (VPA-HIP) grant, which aids in the continuous enrollment and maintenance of the program. Annually, new properties and hunting opportunities are added. Currently, the program boasts over 500 participating private landowners and encompasses more than 1.8 million acres dedicated to public access and habitat improvement. Hunters are advised to regularly check the WDFW hunting access webpage for the latest property listings and updates before the start of each season.
Landowner Participation: Incentives and Enrollment
Private landowners interested in the program can learn about the incentives and flexible enrollment options by contacting a Private Lands Biologist in their region. More details are available on the WDFW website under the private lands section.
Challenges: Reduced Access and Increased Fees
Despite WDFW's efforts, the availability of private lands for public hunting access has been declining. A growing trend, particularly in western Washington, involves major landowners charging access fees and restricting hunter numbers. This decline in accessible private lands has led to increased hunting pressure on public lands, creating overcrowded conditions and limiting hunter participation. Notably, private land access fees have impacted several Game Management Units, including 418, 437, 448, 460, 501, and others, where large tracts of land are leased or require purchased permits for access.
WDFW's Ongoing Efforts and Encouragements
In response to these challenges, WDFW is actively seeking new strategies to persuade landowners to maintain reasonable access fees and flexible hunter number restrictions.
Maintaining Access: Responsibilities of Hunters
Hunting on private lands is a privilege primarily occurring on private forest and agricultural lands. While WDFW collaborates with landowners to secure access, hunters play a crucial role in maintaining this privilege. Respecting landowners and adhering to their rules is essential. Key practices include:
- Obeying all posted signs and leaving gates as found.
- Packing out trash and being courteous.
- Avoiding camping, ORVs, fires, and driving only on designated roads.
- Steering clear of active operations like logging or farming.
- Respecting fire danger closures and not blocking gates.
- Carrying necessary equipment like water, shovel, and ax.
- Avoiding target shooting or wood cutting.
- Recognizing that these lands are generally closed to the public during nighttime.
Seeking Access Information
For information about access to private lands, hunters should initially contact WDFW regional offices or Private Lands Biologists. Direct contact with landowners should be a secondary option. Many landowners offer hotlines or websites with access information, and a map with contact details for Private Lands Biologists is available on the WDFW website.