Oklahoma Sportsmen Lose Access to 50,000 Acres of Public Land

If public access to land is the single-biggest threat to the future of hunting as we know it, then the future just got a little bleaker in Oklahoma.

From this story in the Oklahoman:
_Sportsmen are losing access to another 50,000 acres of the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Oklahoma. On Monday, state wildlife commissioners approved a new three-year agreement with the the Weyerhauser Co., which owns the land, but 50,000 acres currently on the southern end of Three Rivers will no longer be open to the public. Weyerhauser plans to lease that land to private hunting groups, said Alan Peoples, head of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Sportsmen will still have access to 200,000 acres of the Three Rivers WMA for hunting, four-wheeling, hiking and bird and wildlife watching. At least for the next three years.

But the price to Oklahoma sportsmen for use of the land keeps going up. In 1998, Weyerhauser first entered into a 10-year agreement with the Wildlife Department for public use of the land. Initially, the Wildlife Department did not have to pay Weyerhauser for public access to the land. The company was willing to allow sportsmen to hunt the timber country in exchange for state game wardens patrolling the property and helping to protect its investment._ The Wildlife Department also hired biologists to manage wildlife on the property. But in the last decade the price of hunting leases has skyrocketed. The timber land in southeast Oklahoma is prime hunting country and thus very attractive to hunters willing to pay for it. Three Rivers WMA used to be 475,000 acres, but in 2008 the Wildlife Department lost access to almost half of it when Weyerhauser decided to start leasing hunting rights on the land to private individuals and groups.

These kind of public/private partnerships are common in many states, but as the value of hunting land continues to climb into the stratosphere, state wildlife agencies and the hunters who rely on public land are increasingly finding themselves priced out of the game. Is anything similar happening where you live?