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WOODLAND — Hunters will have one less place to find pheasants in Western Washington this fall and two major players in area land management appear to be at odds over who is to blame.

On Sept. 19, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a press release stating that the impending recreational hunts in the Woodland Bottoms area had been canceled. That press release seemed to assign blame to a transfer of land ownership to the Port of Woodland. However, the Port of Woodland has refuted that claim.

“We recently became aware that the Port of Woodland acquired a portion of the Woodland Bottoms pheasant release site,” said Kessina Lee, WDFW southwest region director, in the original press release. “Because the Port does not allow any hunting on their property, we must cancel the Woodland Bottoms unit hunt until further notice, and no birds will be released at the site.”

In an email sent to The Reflector, the Port of Woodland took umbrage with the state’s assertion.

“At this point, the Port does not own any of the properties that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife uses for the pheasant release site, although two of the four properties are currently subject to a purchase and sale agreement between the Port and the Department of Natural Resources. The Port understands that WDFW allowed the release of the pheasants in years past without the authorization of DNR,” wrote Jennifer Wray-Keene, executive director for the Port of Woodland.

Pheasant hunts were set to open on Sept. 21 for youths and on Sept. 23 for senior citizens and disabled hunters. The general season will open on Sept. 28 across the rest of Western Washington, including designated release sites such as Lincoln Creek and Kosmos in Lewis County. Because few pheasants exist in the wilds of Western Washington, the birds are raised at the Bob Oke Farm in Centralia for distribution to a smattering of release sites around the region.

“We know that this is a difficult situation for our pheasant hunters,” added Lee in the WDFW press release. “The department is looking at options to continue to provide pheasant hunting opportunities in our region.”

While the Port of Woodland contends that it is not yet responsible for the lands and cancelation in question, it simultaneously voiced an objection to the established protocol associated with the traditional Woodland Bottoms recreational pheasant hunts.

“While the Port supports recreational access to certain Port properties, it will nevertheless need to evaluate whether to authorize this property to be used as a pheasant release site pending completion of the transaction with DNR,” noted Wray-Keene in her email. “The Port will need to determine potential liability exposure, adequacy of insurance for hunting and the pheasant release program, and compatibility with current and potential future uses of the property.”

Wray-Keene went on to add that, “furthermore, the Port has not received any agreement from WDFW regarding the release, which only informed the Port on Tuesday, September 17 of the impending release on September 21.”

The subject of short notice appears to be paramount to the objections proffered by the Port of Woodland in regard to the cancelation of the Woodland Bottoms pheasant hunts.

“The five-day notice of the release of the pheasants by WDFW was inadequate, even if the Port owned the property. But at this time, we do not have the title to the properties in question and had requested WDFW not use the property for hunting under its pheasant release program,” explained Wray-Keene. “Without any such review legally or by our insurance provider, or any agreement with WDFW and the current tenant, the Port is not in a position to make a determination of such activities on the properties.”

Pheasant hunting will run from Sept. 28 through Nov. 30 in Western Washington. Legal hunting hours are 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. with a daily limit of two birds of either sex and a possession limit of 15 birds. A limited extended season will be offered Dec. 1-15 at the Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, Belfair, Whidbey Island (except Bayview) and Lincoln Creek release sites only.

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