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A collaborative effort

Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Team effort results in grant for disabled Hunter Access Program

S-E Staff Reporter

    With great collaboration and community effort, the Northeastern Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC), along with Stevens County and the Forest Service, have been awarded a grant by the National Forest Foundation to enhance and expand the Disabled Hunter Access Program (DHAP) in the Colville National Forest.  
    The collaborative relationship between the NEWFC, Stevens County and the Forest Service/Colville National Forest has made this project possible.
    The program encompasses three counties, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry. The grant will expand, enhance and improve the four existing routes and develop an additional two routes by the end of this fall.
    “Our disabled hunters program is one of only three on federal land in the state.  If we go to the number of routes that we plan to (six), we will have roughly 50 perceent of the disabled hunter routes in the state,” explained David Bostick, Wildlife Biologist with the Forest Service/Colville National Forest.
    The CNF started the Disabled Hunters Access Program (DHAP) in 1990, and is one of only three national forests in Washington to have such a program.

Current routes have become overgrown

    Of the four routes the Colville National Forest currently has in the program, some have become overgrown, making them unsuitable for disabled hunters.  
    “Gradually, over time, those routes have become overgrown and closed in, which is not good for disabled hunters who are, by in large, confined to the road and shoulders,” said Bostick.
    Improvements in access procedures, information available for disabled hunters and interactive GIS capabilities through the Stevens County website are all ongoing facets of the program.
    “The potential to attract disabled hunters to the area is huge,” said Claudia Michalke of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.
    Goals of the program include increasing opportunities for disabled hunters in Northeast Washington, while minimizing impacts to natural resources, including wildlife and providing a quality hunting experience for disabled hunters, improving agency relationships with the local community and relationships among local stakeholder organizations. Having a positive effect on Northeastern Washington tourism and benefiting the  local economy are other goals.
    Another goal is to serve as a pilot project for future DHAP programs in other national forests, especially in the Pacific Northwest region, Bostick said.

The need for disabled hunting accessible areas is growing

    The need for areas accessible to disabled hunters is growing.
    April Harris of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Coalition that there were  83,315 disabled veterans in Washington State in 2006 who received benefits.  They possess between 10 percent and 100 percent disability.
    It’s because of the type and quality of hunting available in Northeastern Washington that all hunters, not only disabled hunters, come to this region.  Over 120 disabled hunters utilized one or more of the routes in 2007 and interest in the program is high and growing.
    “One of the reasons the disabled hunters program in Colville gets more interest than you’d expect is the fact that we have basically, bar-none, the best whitetail deer hunting in the state and some of the best turkey hunting in the state,” said Bostick.

Manpower need to accomplish goals

    The project will take a lot of manpower to accomplish its goals.
    Organizers will use staff and volunteers from various local organizations to assist in evaluating, improving and monitoring of the disabled hunting routes.
    “We will be using disabled hunters to help us evaluate, to a certain extent, some of these routes,”  Bostick pointed out.  “We will be doing a field tour with them in late May and will ask them, along with our staff, to fill out an evaluation critique form.  We want to get their perspective because they’re going to see things that we would miss.”    
    The State’s Disabled Hunters Association, the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other groups have agreed to send representative for the field tour, according to Bostick.
    Disabled hunter routes are closed to motorized use for non-disabled hunters, and are currently used for high profile vehicles only, although possible OHV use may be available to disabled hunters in the future.  

Commissioner expects program to help hunting

    “Based on the hunters I’ve talked to, this program will help the industry,”  explained Stevens County Commissioner, Merrill Ott.  “These are hunters that would love to get out there; they just need the mechanical means to.”    
    The estimate is from 25 to 35 miles on the routes that are to be reclaimed or formed.  Routes will be evaluated by certain criteria, with priorities on what is critical such as gated access.    
    “We’re not taking from one group (such as OHV’s) and giving to another.  The routes will be already gated, usually for natural resource protection reasons of one sort or another,” explained Bostick.
    Impacts to many natural resource protection areas are “driven” by how many vehicles are going through the area.  With the limited number of vehicles and the timing (not during winter to impact winter game ranges), the impact will not create a negative impact to the area, coalition members noted.
    Disabled hunters are allowed to take one able-bodied hunter with them to act as an assistant for game retrieval purposes.  
    The plan is to have these dedicated routes open during the bulk of the hunting seasons, according to Bostick.  
    “In the past, some have been and some have not been open throughout the season,”  Bostick conceded.  “This year we will try and standardize it so they are all open, starting the first day of the small game season and closing with the last day of the modern firearm deer season.”

Stevens County will be a big contributor to the program

    “The county’s contribution will be huge, not just financial,”  Michalke pointed out.  “It (GIS map) opens the way and makes the accessibility to the Colville National Forest easier for people to key into, no matter where they live.”
    Stevens County is working on a GIS map as part of the Stevens County website that will be interactive and will offer map layers, including disabled hunter routes and OHV routes to the public.
    Mark Curtis, Director of Stevens County Information Services, said they are looking to go to an interactive GIS system that will allow users to go into the county website “and navigate around the map and turn layers or features on and off. They can turn on layers showing roads, streams, highways and turn on or off different features of the map.
    “Then they will be able to print off the map for that area with those attributes.   We are looking for this to happen within the next year.”
    He said the group is working on a collaboration with Ferry County and plans to working with Pend Oreille County to create a map that will encompass the Colville National Forest.
    “We want a situation where maps will link to our site,” Curtis said. “It hasn’t been approved yet…it’s something that’s a talking point with the commissioners, but we would like to host that so the Colville National Forest map will cover the three counties.”
    The benefits of the project are far-reaching.
    “This has benefits far beyond this particular project,” added Bostick.
    Discussions regarding OHV access and the Proof of Concept meetings with CNF over the last couple years have indicated to county commissioners that disabled hunting access is a high priority to the public.
    “The disabled vets that wanted to hunt really came out and said, ‘can we work on that, that would be a great starting point,’ ” said Ott, adding, “it’s a good common theme we can all rally around.”
    The program is important in many ways to the community.
    “One of the things that’s really important is that in the last year-and-a-half that  the commissioners from all three counties have been getting together, we’ve had the conversations about doing this,” Ott noted.  “And not one of the commissioners has been opposed to working together.
    “It’s the details, that need to be worked out.”
    “This higher level and ease of communication was built into the grant and would be part of the grant process,” explained Michalke.

One or more new or improved route in each of the Tri-counties is the goal

    The goal is to have at least one new, or improved, route in each of the Tri-counties.
    After this fall’s hunting season, a survey will be sent to the disabled hunters to get feedback about the routes.  
    This is a perfect illustration of what the Northeast Forestry Coalition does, and does best.  They bring people together to solve problems and to do good projects, such as this,” said Michalke.
    “This is a true community project in every sense of the word,” added Bostick.
    Because the Coalition is a 501c3, they are eligible for these non-profit grants. The project is being funded by the National Forest Foundation (Missoula, Montana).  
    “We anticipate project costs to be about about $51,000,”  Michalke noted.  “That amount is a combination of cash, in-kind and grant dollars; there’s going to be a lot of “bang for the buck.”    
    Currently, the coalition is still looking for close to $5,000 in matching funds for the grant.
    The vast majority of the work on the ground will be done by volunteers who will bring a wide range of diverse interests together in a worthy common project.     
    The work is realistically planned to be completed by the first of September.

Grant coordinators express views on the project

    Lloyd McGee from Vaagen Brothers Lumber Company said he appreciates everything that has been done to date.
    “I’d like to say, as the president of the Coalition, ‘thank you’ to the National Forest Foundation for approving the grant proposal,”  McGee said. “We hope to do many good projects with their support in the future.”
    Bostick added that “This is not a one year, one season, one time type program.  This is something that is a start… it’s only going to continue if we continue to push at it and continue to find innovative funding sources.”
    Commissioner Ott added something of a warning.
     “There’s a challenge here for the people to work on this project as we bring more and more of our veterans home,”  Ott explained. “The injured veterans can come up here and enjoy hunting in our area.
    “Other areas are watching us to see if we can make this project work.”  
    To say the effort is broad-based is an understatement.
     “A wide diversity of organizations are supporting the disabled hunters access program, including the Northeast Forestry Coalition, the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Veteran’s Conservation Corps, NE Washington Tourism Coordinator, Stevens County and numerous local businesses,”  Michalke said.  “We have a lot of people on board.”