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Hunt clubs receive stern warning

by Bryan Hendricks | March 23, 2017 at 2:24 a.m.

A major corporate landowner recently warned deer clubs that lease its land to immediately cease unauthorized tree cutting.

Resource Management Services owns more than 200,000 acres in Arkansas, mostly in the Gulf Coastal Plain. It, like many other corporate landowners, leases much of its land to hunting clubs. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement that provides great hunting opportunities to thousands of Arkansans. In turn, hunting club members protect the landowner's assets by curtailing littering, illegal dumping and arson.

Problems occur when hunting club members abuse their lease privileges. Lately, the most egregious abuses have been from club members cutting timber to create or improve hunting areas. One common practice is to mow or bush-hog shooting lanes in young or newly planted pine plantations.

Cultivated lanes aren't conspicuous from the ground, and most hunters don't spy on their fellow club members, but RMS documents land use practices from the air and from satellite imagery.

Karl Hansen of Sheridan, lease manager for RMS, said in October that the Ico Hunting Club in Grant County caused about $9,000 damage in this manner, which prompted RMS to send a letter to all of its hunting clubs.

The letter, dated Oct. 12, notes that a significant number of shooting lanes are being bush-hogged or otherwise established in newly established pine plantations.

"Upon field inspection, the destruction actually appears worse than the initial look," the letter says. "If this practice does not end, it may be necessary to take more drastic steps, up to and including the possibility of disallowing maintenance of shooting lanes altogether."

Citing the blanket lease agreement that RMS holds with all of its clubs, the letter reminds hunting club officers that their lease agreements prohibit damaging trees -- including seedlings and young timber -- and to avoid interfering with the licensor's forest, wildlife, or land management or forest harvesting activities.

Also, a hunting club is responsible for paying for any tree or other forest products that may be cut, used, damaged or removed from the lands by a licensee or its guest. You can't remove trees or timber without the landowner's permission. That includes plucking seedlings to create a shooting lane.

If you belong to a club that leases hunting privileges from a timber company, you understand that you are at the mercy of logging rotations. The mature timber you've been hunting for the past 10 years can be clear-cut tomorrow.

RMS reinforces that point in the letter, which says, "Hunting stands are to be erected with the idea that they can and will need to be moved as the surrounding forest changes."

If you erect a stand in a cutover, you understand that it's only going to be huntable for three to five years before it grows too thick.

When that happens, you need to have another place available where you can relocate, or you must adapt to the evolution of the rotations. Firebreaks are great places for stands because they are long and wide, and no new trees will be planted there. That makes them excellent places for establishing food plots.

Streamside management zones are also good because they are largely exempt from logging activities, and they are natural wildlife funnels.

Hunt club members are not powerless to improve stand sites. You can trim weeds and volunteer brush manually or mechanically as long as you don't damage trees or seedlings. You cannot use herbicides or fire.

The RMS letter says that hunters may "daylight" lanes by trimming branches.

"Branches can be trimmed from the ground upwards, leaving a minimum of 30 percent of the crown," the letter says. "Any trimming should be conducted so as not to injure the main stem."

A forest patch inevitably outgrows your ability to manipulate even a small hunting spot. One of my stands in Grant County is now unhuntable despite my intense efforts to keep a small area open around it. Overwhelmed, I quit trimming branches three years ago, and I removed my feeder two years ago. The only reasons I go there now is to remove wasp nests, ensure the structure is sound and to at least keep it accessible.

That stand is at the edge of a streamside management zone and a big thicket that was scheduled for thinning last year. That hasn't happened yet, but when they finally get around to cutting, it will rejuvenate the hunting in that entire area.

Sports on 03/23/2017

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