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Hunting land gets green-dot proposal

Juniper Properties' private forest lands in the Geppert Butte area near Butte Falls have taken a beating over the past several winters from hunters, hikers and others driving the muddy forest roads, their tires causing silt to fill streams and their noisy motors fragmenting black-tailed deer habitat.

Lone Rock Timber Management, the company that operates Juniper Properties' lands here, considered gating those roads and closing them to winter traffic altogether to solve these and other problems.

Instead, about 3,000 acres around the butte are proposed for inclusion into the Jackson Access and Cooperative Travel Management Area program, which is about to embark on its 20th year.

As with other JACTMA lands, the public can drive on the improved, all-weather roads marked by large green dots, but they will be barred from the dirt ones from mid-October through April.

"This solution was the one we thought would be the best for people who still want to recreate on our land," says Line Rock forester Dave Erickson. "I would like to think it would actually enhance their hunting experience."

These lands would raise to nearly 60,000 acres the areas that are part of the JACTMA program, which is up for its four-year funding renewal through the state's Access and Habitat Program.

JACTMA leaders are asking for a $115,351 A&H Program grant to match the $120,000 paid by other private landowners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund police patrols, habitat projects and other work done on JACTMA lands around Shady Cove and Butte Falls.

The public is invited to comment on the latest JACTMA proposal during a meeting of the regional Access and Habitat Council at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office at the Denman Wildlife Area, 1595 E. Gregory Road.

The local council will make a recommendation on the funding package to the statewide Access and Habitat Board, which will vote on it during the board's April 29 meeting in Klamath Falls.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will have to sign off on the proposal during its June 5-6 meetings. If adopted, the new JACTMA program will go into effect July 1 and run through spring of 2018.

The program began 20 years ago as a response to problems on lower-elevation private and Bureau of Land Management lands here that are so intertwined they appear like a checkerboard on maps.

The private timberlands traditionally have been open to public access, even though the road easements are for BLM administrative use and don't technically guarantee public use.

"People just took private lands for granted all those years," says Vince Oredson, an ODFW biologist who is the A&H regional coordinator.

But persistent erosion problems from the public using wet dirt roads and off-roading — as well as illegal dumping, poaching and other problems — led some landowners to consider closing winter access altogether.

At the same time, ODFW biologists were concerned about fragmented big-game winter range by road use.

The private timberland owners worked with ODFW to create the state's first travel-management area, where dirt spur roads were closed from mid-October through April, while the paved and well-rocked main roads remained open.

And most importantly, Oredson says, all of the lands remain open to walk-in hunting.

"You just have to compromise a little, accept that certain roads will be closed, but you can still hunt the whole thing," Oredson says.

At first, JACTMA was a four-letter word around places like Shady Cove, where many saw it as a government land-grab. But reduced erosion, curbed poaching and improved big-game habitat and regular Oregon State Police presence helped it gain acceptance. The TMA program has now grown from about 43,000 acres to 59,337 acres.

"There are still a few guys who still don't like not being able to drive to their old hunting hot spots, and I sympathize with them," Oredson says.

"But there are a lot of positives," he says. "We're pretty happy to have that hunting access on that private land. It could be closed out any time."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.