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Grays Harbor County Tries Tax Gambit To Stop Weyerhaeuser's Recreation Fees

Photo provided by Weyerhaeuser.
Vandalism and illegal dumping like this on the St. Helens Tree Farm was a key reason for the new access policy, says Weyerhaeuser.

A coastal Northwest county is the first to strike back against pricey recreation permits now being required by some large timber companies. The Grays Harbor County commission voted unanimously Monday to take a tax deferral away from private timberland owners that charge for public access.

This spring, timber giant Weyerhaeuser announced it would switch most of its western Oregon and western Washington tree farms to access by permit only during hunting season. Permit prices range from a low of $75 up to $550 per tree farm.

Upset hunters like Steve Bova crowded into the county commission chambers in Montesano, Washington to vent their frustration.

"What these corporations are doing is turning a great sport into a wealthy man-only sport,” Bova said.

The protests convinced the county commission to reclassify tree farms that charge for access into a higher property tax bracket. Tree farmer Howard Wilson predicts an unintended consequence.

“If the large timber companies can't charge a fee, their next option is probably cutting off access completely,” Wilson said.

Other county commissions under similar pressure from constituents say they'll watch what happens to the Grays Harbor County ordinance before possibly following suit.

Both sides now expect a lawsuit since Weyerhaeuser has previously indicated it believes the county action runs contrary to state tax law. 

Even Grays Harbor County Commissioner Frank Gordon, who voted for the tax change, is doubtful about its legality. He says his intent was to bring Weyerhaeuser to the bargaining table to negotiate what he termed more reasonable recreation access fees. 

Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez says vandalism and trash dumping on several tree farms dropped significantly after his company introduced a permit system on a trial basis last year.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

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