Campfires allowed in deer camp on public lands

Campfires are back in deer camp on Southern Oregon public lands just in time for Saturday's start of the general rifle season for black-tailed deer, but access to most private industrial forests remains limited.

Last week's rains were just wet enough for the Oregon Department of Forestry on Wednesday to reduce its fire-season restrictions on state and Bureau of Land Management lands to allow off-road driving and campfires. However, smoking while traveling is allowed only in enclosed vehicles.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, which covers most high-elevation lands around the Rogue Valley, also has no restrictions, except for separate rules for the Wild and Scenic sections it manages along the Rogue River.

However, many private industrial forests in Jackson and Josephine counties are either still closed to public access or have only walk-in access.

For instance, Hancock Forest Management lands in Jackson and Josephine counties opened Wednesday to walk-in access, but no camping was allowed. As of Thursday morning, Lone Rock Timberland and Plum Creek lands in Jackson and Josephine counties remained closed to all public access.

ODF publishes an updated list of public restrictions on private industrial forests. For specifics, check the Oregon Department of Forestry website at www.oregon.gov/odf/pages/fire/corporate_closure.aspx.

"Prior to this week, everything was really buttoned up," says Mike Dykzeul, director of forest protection for the Oregon Forest Industries Council and the compiler of the private forest access list for ODF.

"I know that walk-in access doesn't make everybody happy, but it's better than what we saw just a week ago," Dykzeul says. "We appreciate the public's understanding."

General-season deer tags for the Cascades will be on sale at license outlets through tonight. The season starts Saturday, but many hunters like to head into the woods today and set up deer camp to become their base of operations for the season's first two weeks.

While mass closures have been common for years in the industrial forests of northwest Oregon, they have been rare in Southern Oregon, in part because of the checkerboard ownership patterns that private industry shares with the federal Bureau of Land Management here.

In recent years, however, many companies with land scattered throughout different areas of Oregon issue blanket public-access rules for their lands statewide.

Most often, closures were for vehicles when bad fire conditions and hunting seasons overlapped, but walk-in access generally has been permitted.

The timber companies and BLM share an administrative easement for access onto these private timberlands. They are not public-access easements, though traditionally they've been treated as such by the public.

Dykzeul says most industrial foresters welcome hunters as extra "eyes and ears" in the woods and for their help in reducing damage that big-game animals such as bear, deer and elk can have on immature forests.

Though fire restrictions have eased, Dykzeul warns hunters to remain vigilant about curbing wildfire danger.

"Especially in your neck of the woods, we've had enough rain to take the extreme edge off," Dykzeul says. "But the material is still pretty darn dry."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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