Most commercial forest land in Southern Oregon will be open for today's start of the black-tailed deer hunting season now that rains have washed away fire-season restrictions.
Private timber companies such as Hancock Forest Management and Plum Creek Timber Co. have lifted their forest closures, which have been in place most of the summer due to extreme fire danger.
The Oregon Department of Forestry on Tuesday called an end to fire season in Jackson and Josephine counties, opening access to hundreds of thousands of acres just as rifle hunters are preparing to hit the woods.
"Fire season is over and most of the (industrial foresters) I've talked to say it's a green light," said Vince Oredson, a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in White City.
The restriction change came so suddenly that many industrial landowners have yet to inform ODF of the changes so it can update its fire-season closure Web page. That page Friday listed owners such as Hancock and Plum Creek among a list of Western Oregon industrial landowners still locking the public out of their lands.
But representatives of local industrial holdings informed Oredson on Friday of the eased restrictions, he said.
The companies will open their lands on a limited basis, with some gated and barricaded roads still closed to vehicle access but open to foot access, Oredson said.
The rains that ended fire-season restrictions have turned once-dusty backroads into muddy ones.
"I hope people have the common sense not to drive on soft dirt roads," Oredson said. "Just stay on rock roads, not where they'll be making ruts."
Hancock is the largest owner of private timberland in Jackson County, and its holdings include about 126,000 acres in Jackson and Josephine counties, mostly former Boise Cascade Corp. lands that have changed hands a few times since about 2000.
Open access to industrial lands is crucial to hunters because of the way industrial lands and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands are intertwined in a checkerboard-like configuration here.
The timber companies and BLM share an administrative easement for access onto these private timberlands. They are not public-access easements, although traditionally they've been treated as such by the public.
Most of the ODFW districts in Eastern Oregon remain under fire-season restrictions, ODF spokesman Rod Nichols said.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.