Hunting: Navy fees are not fair
July 3, 2008 · Updated 9:35 PM
About 20 years ago I hunted pheasants for the first time. I took my dog, a lab mix, and my new shotgun out to the fields of Coupeville to discover one of the big passions of my life. My dog and I were both the rawest of rookies and embarrassing as it is to admit, the dog learned his job long before I learned mine. After many wonderful years of hunting together my faithful partner died a ripe old age. I asked for and received permission to bury him in a favorite copse of trees on the Boyers farm in Coupeville.
I have continued to hunt birds with different dogs over the years and have sadly watched the decline of pheasant hunting on Whidbey Island. With the closure of the game farm we received less plants. This was to be expected. Also, as more houses were built the available land to hunt shrunk. This, too, was understandable.
The cost of pheasant hunting in western Washington has risen considerably. This year a permit goes for $36 and that is for eight pheasants. At first this may seem unreasonable but I do not doubt that it costs the game department nearly eight dollars per bird when all factors are considered. And if you compare $10 for two hours of entertainment at a cinema versus all the hours afield during the season, I think that a real value for your dollar can be seen.
Part of my purpose in writing this letter, and the most important part, is to give my belated gratitude to those who grant us the privilege of using their land to hunt on. I have met very few of these kind souls personally so I apologize in advance for any errors of omission or commission, but I would mention the Arnolds of Penn cove and the Shermans and Engles of Coupeville. My thanks go out also to the Boyers of Coupeville who allowed release on their farm for many years. And I am especially grateful to Ray Gabelein of Bayview for his undying support of hunting on his land, even in the face of some local dissent.
Unfortunately, there is a new dark cloud on the horizon of Whidbey pheasant hunting. I am referring to the new policy of NAS Whidbey to charge a $10 fee for hunting on Navy land. The Navy has had release sites for years, both at the Outlying Field in Coupeville and at the seaplane base in Oak Harbor. They have always required a permit, which is understandable, but it has always been gratis. I have several problems with this new policy.
First and foremost is the question of land ownership. Is the Navy allowing use of their land? No. We are allowing them the use of our land. As citizens and taxpayers we are the owners of government property. The Navy is a steward of this property. How can they charge us to use our land? If they claim extra security costs or some similar buzzword I would remind them that I am paying those costs already. Our taxes are the Navys sole means of support. Whatever extra burdens occurred are already paid by us.
But a more sinister problem remains less visible and that is the question of where the birds ar released. Lets assume that I, like many people I know, refuse to pay this new fee and hunt the other release sites on the island. I will find my odds of success slim indeed.
According to the Washington Department of Fish and wildlife pamphlet, the anticipated release of pheasants in Island County is 1,540 birds. Of these 1,540 birds, 1,220 will be released on the Navy sites. That is almost 80 percent. Bear in mind that hunters, through licenses and fees, bought and paid for these birds not the Navy. Therefore, Whidbey hunters are forced to choose between joining the Navys private hunting club or scavenging for left-over dregs, the remaining 20 percent.
A private landowner cannot charge a fee to hunt WDFW released birds. The same should be true for the Navy. As I stated earlier, this is our land anyway and we are already paying for its stewardship. NAS Whidbey needs to either stop charging a fee or get out of the pheasant business and give us back our 1,220 pheasants.