Posted By Toutle Trekker

I'm done pussyfooting around.  I've teased; I've hinted; I've even written a post or two that touched on the subject.  Now I'm ready to jump in head first.  I'm going to tell everyone how to open gates to landlocked state land. And I'm going to give you all the links and sources to prove it!   I have the passcode, the combination, the Magic Number.  Here it is: 1-9-6-7.  That's it folks--1967 is the key to unlocking private timber company gates that block public access to public land.  

gatesign
 

Gates like this one on the 500 Road. It's one of the main access routes to Weyerhaeuser's St. Helens Tree Farm.  Maybe you even paid Weyerhaeuser for a permit and key.  Despite what the signs warn, "permit required for all access", the 500 Road is a shared road, and the state of Washington has legal access rights on it.  Just a few miles past that gate lies 15,000 acres of State DNR land.  

So how does "1967" open that gate?  It turns out that the 40th legislative session in 1967 was unquestionably the most important for outdoor recreation EVER.  Washington was the fastest growing state in the nation.  Sprawl was effecting farms, forests, and open space.  Governor Dan Evans was concerned about this loss of quality-of-life, and he intended to do something about it.  He even gave a special speech to highlight his outdoor recreation priorities.  He called for a scenic highway system, protection of the seashore, and broad cooperation between public and private entities.  Then he challenged the legislature to do even more...and they did.  Many significant laws were passed, including three that effect that gate on the 500 Road. 

First, the legislature passed recreational immunity (RCW 4.24.210).  For years the old Department of Game, along with large private landowners, had been pushing for a this change that would protect private landowners from lawsuits if they allowed free public recreation.  It passed in 1967.  Next, the State DNR obtained the legal authority to provide recreation and recreation access routes to public land. (RCW 79.10.140)  This law put the DNR squarely in the public access business.  And, most importantly, "current use taxation" finally passed in 1967.  This was the start of the process to fundamentally change how land is taxed.  It was a BIG deal, with a multi-step and multi-year process.  The next year, the people would vote to change in the state constitution to allow it.  And after that, in the decade that followed, the legislature would refine and tweak how current use taxation would operate for different types of open-space land, like farms, ranches, and forest land.  The change had the support of timber companies because it would mean a big tax break for them, but real estate entities lobbied against it, and stated in the 1968 voter's pamphlet that "this is a calculated effort by the major timber companies to shift the burden of real estate taxes to other types of property."

During this long process the timber companies needed to keep the people on their side.  Imagine the repercussions if they had started their expensive recreational permits while "current use taxation" was still in its design phase.  People would have been outraged!  The vote in 1968 would have failed.  And the generous tax breaks that passed in the subsequent years would have crashed and burned.  Instead, they (wisely) embraced free public recreation.  Private landowners heeded Dan Evan's call for cooperation and partnership in outdoor recreation. All through the 1970's and 1980's private timberland was wide open for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and biking.  This was not a coincidence.

And, most importantly for the 500 Road, the easement language between timber companies and the state of Washington changed virtually overnight.  Before the 1967 legislative session, the road easements between these entities have a restrictive clause that limited the use to "land management and administrative activities".  After the legislative session, this restricting clause was removed.  The easement on the 500 Road was signed in October of 1967, and it has a purpose of using existing roads to "provide access to and from the lands of the parties hereto." PERIOD.  No limiting clause tacked onto the end.  

easement map

The DNR knows all about these broadly worded easements, calling them a legal "grey" area. With the power and influence of the nation's largest landowners threatening them, the agency treats pre- and post-1967 easements the same.  They have simply forgotten the deals and promises, concessions and tax breaks, laws and agreements of 1967.  We all should be able to use these routes to access public land without being molested by corporate cops or the game wardens in their pocket.  

Help Out: Imagine how much public land would be accessible if our leaders confirmed that we could use these routes!  Contact Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz at the DNR, the Department of Fish and Wildlife leadership, or Governor Inslee's office (which has shown some interest).   Write legislators and remind them that the the broad and open wording of post -1967 easements were bought and paid for by the public! Do your own research.  Maybe that gate near you that blocks access to public land also has a lost and forgotten easement.

Learn More:  Check the history out for yourself, then spread the word.

Lewis County has all their easement online: Lewis County Auditor - Disclaimer (lewiscountywa.gov)  The Green River Easement is Auditor File 720413. 

Read Governor Evan's speech and all 1967 laws here: Legislative Information Center Floor Journals (wa.gov)

The "current use tax law' is here: RCW 84.33.010: Legislative findings. (wa.gov)  Read the legislative intent on forestland taxation, which states that providing  "recreational spaces" is part of the reason for the tax break.  The 1968 Voter's pamphlet link: https://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/voters' pamphlet 1968.pdf

 DNR Biennial Report (pg 19) 3aae2994-e920-4e2e-8bae-89046ff7d06e (wa.gov)  DNR states that these roads are open to public recreational use.


 
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