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State imposes parking fees for access to wildlife areas

WHITE CITY — Hiking, fishing and bird-watching within the Denman Wildlife Area in White City will get more spendy beginning next year under a new parking-fee program aimed at getting non-hunters to pay for wildlife-area services.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday adopted the first-ever parking permit program for Denman and three other state-run areas beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Other wildlife areas will require payments in 2013 and 2014.

Visitors who park at Denman next year will have to pay $7 a day or $22 a year for a permit.

However, permits will be free to hunters when they buy licenses. Most wildlife areas were bought with hunting access in mind and are operated with money raised federally through a tax on firearms and ammunition.

Bird-watchers, hikers and other so-called "nonconsumptive" users log about five times the annual visitor days at Denman that hunters do.

Anglers log twice the number of user days, but they currently have no venue for funding wildlife areas or improvements to its infrastructure.

"The permit is to provide the non-hunting public a way to help out with the support of these wildlife areas," says Nancy Breuner, wildlife area operations coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which owns the sites.

Permit sales would be through the ODFW's Point of Sale system, used to process fishing and hunting licenses, or the ODFW website.

Passes will be valid at all state wildlife areas.

The program is based on a similar program run at the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area in Portland, which to date has had the only parking-fee program among state wildlife areas.

Violators will face a $75 fine, and the citation would be considered a wildlife violation rather than a parking ticket, Breuner said.

Money collected from the program will go toward improving the infrastructure of wildlife areas. ODFW officials estimate the fee will raise from $661,000 to $2.1 million.

Breuner said ODFW will have to find a way to equitably distribute the money among wildlife areas where permits are required. Counting machines will be set up at fee lots to estimate use, she said.

Signs indicating where the parking pass will be required at Denman are expected to be in place in the spring.

Other wildlife areas that will require a parking permit in 2012 are E.E. Wilson, Ladd Marsh and Summer Lake.

The Klamath, Fern Ridge, White River and Phillip W. Schneider wildlife areas will join the program in 2013.

The Elkhorn, Columbia Basin and Jewell Meadows wildlife areas join the fee ranks in 2014. Four remaining wildlife areas — Bridge Creek, Riverside, Wenaha and Lower Deschutes — were deemed to have marginal wildlife viewing use or no parking opportunities, so they were not included in the fee program.

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