For years, Plum Creek has provided the state of Louisiana with a free lease for the 10,000+ acre Union Parish Wildlife Management Area. That is no longer the case. The company did offer to lease the property to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at a cost, but the Department has decided to use WMA resources elsewhere.
It’s a blow to a large number of hunters and outdoors people who use the area. Prime woodlands available to the general public are harder and harder to find.
You shouldn’t blame Plum Creek for wanting to raise revenue on land they own, especially when they have been confronted with higher costs. They are a business which has a huge economic impact on our parish. According Union Parish Tax Assessor website figures, taxes on Plum Creek holdings here rose from $127,604 in 2013 to $146,067 for 2014. This, even though assessed value of their property went down nearly $100,000 in a year. In addition, Plum Creek has not been taking advantage of the tax credits available on the land during these free leases (more about that below) to keep from hurting the parish. And you shouldn’t be mad at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for not spending money they don’t have.
The Union area is fairly well used. According to LDWF, there were just under 3,000 user days on the Union WMA last year. Nearly half of those – 1,276 — were deer hunters. A total of 121 deer were reported killed on the area. There were probably lots more that were not reported because some people just don’t do that. The rest of the visitors did everything from duck hunt to squirrel hunt to bird watch to pick berries. Fortunately for the parish, the huge Upper Ouachita and D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuges, while somewhat restrictive, do still offer free public access.
To find out more about this situation, we spoke with Kate Tate in Plum Creek’s Corporate Office in Seattle, Washington. She gave us this information:
1) Has this been a free lease to the state in the past? Answer — “Previous agreements provided Plum Creek tax waivers in exchange for recreational WMA use. State laws support this concept; however, in practice waiver of ad valorem taxes proves detrimental to local Parishes that depend on this revenue for school and road programs. Thus Plum Creek never received nor requested follow through on the tax waivers. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries provided some in-kind contributions to Plum Creek, but no monetary compensation.
2) What changed this year? Is this necessary because of increased operating expenses in Union Parish? Answer — “Within the past two years, Plum Creek and LDWF met to discuss options for Plum Creek to receive more value from continuing to provide this land to the WMA system. Unfortunately we were unable to reach a mutually beneficial solution and LDWF decided not to renew the WMA license agreement with Plum Creek. We expect to achieve our objective to generate more value, in part, by leasing these acres to members of the general public through our standard program.”
3) Can you tell me what the cost would have been to the state to maintain an annual lease on the 10,000 acres? Answer: “We are declining to provide that information, which we consider proprietary.”
4) Who and how should people get in contact with Plum Creek if they are interested in looking at maps or getting information about possible hunting club leases on the property? Answer — “Plum Creek intends to offer these lands for lease to individuals or hunting clubs through the company’s Recreation Lease Management program. Interested parties can register to receive email notifications about our process and schedule by visiting our website http://www.plumcreek.com/recreation and clicking on the Lease Opportunities page.
5) Do you have any other information that will help get the word out to hunters on how they can get in on leases, etc. Answer — “We expect to start the lease process in early July 2015, after the WMA agreement with LDWF expires. We were pleased to work with LDWF for many years to provide this public hunting venue through the WMA program. We look forward to new agreements with various sportsmen groups that continue and enhance widespread hunter access to this great natural resource. Interested hunters should watch for updates via our website and email (if registered as explained above) within the next two weeks.”