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Out & about: Washington State surveys public attitudes on plethora of public land access permits

Washington's Discover Pass -- $30 a year or $10 a day -- debuts in July 2011 as a requirement for vehicles parking in state parks and most other state DNR and Fish and Wildlife lands and facilities.
Washington's Discover Pass -- $30 a year or $10 a day -- debuts in July 2011 as a requirement for vehicles parking in state parks and most other state DNR and Fish and Wildlife lands and facilities.

OUTPASSED – Will you need a Discover Pass, Northwest Forest Pass or Weyerhaeuser access pass for your next hunting, fishing, hiking, camping or huckleberry picking trip?

More than 20 unique recreation passes and permits are available in Washington for accessing recreation lands on a daily or seasonal basis.

Washington state agencies are looking into simplifying the quagmire of cards, stickers or vehicle mirror-hanger documents required for recreating on local, state and federal lands and perhaps even private timber lands.

Washington State University has launched an online survey this month in a partnership with the state agencies oriented to outdoor recreation, including the departments of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources and State Parks. Ideas from the public will be compiled in September to be included in a report to the Washington Legislature in December.

Nearly 40 percent of the state – more than 20 million acres – is managed by nine agencies (six federal and three state). Various user fees have been introduced by these agencies as state and federal funding has declined while participation in outdoor recreation has increased.

Forest Service policies vary depending on the national forest. For example, the Umatilla National Forest in the Blue Mountains requires a federal Northwest Forest pass or equivalent for parking at popular trailheads while no access permit is required in the Colville National Forest.

The passes that may be required depend on the agency, trailhead, season, activity, mode of access and whether or not an individual qualifies for a free or reduced-fee program.

At Mount Spokane State Park, snowshoers need a state Discover Pass in their vehicle for most of the year. During the snow-plowing months, a state Sno-Park permit is required. In addition, Nordic skiers using the tracked cross-country trails must have a groomer sticker.

If a winter visitor simply wants a day pass at Mount Spokane, the vehicle must have the one-day versions of a Sno-Park AND a Discover Pass. “State Parks didn’t make that up,” former park manager Steve Christiansen said. “It has to do with the separate accounts for funding parks and winter recreation.”

Required passes in Washington come in the form of a review mirror “hang tag,” window cling, sticker or plastic card that may be linked to a specific individual, household, or up to two license plates.

Additional fees or permits, such as backcountry camping permits in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, or hunting licenses and ORV tabs are another layer of requirements for specific users groups.

The 2016 Washington Legislature, which initiated some of the permits, heard the public is confused and sometimes frustrated with permit requirements.

Lawmakers directed the state agencies to work with WSU’s Ruckelshaus Center to “coordinate a process to develop options and recommendations to improve consistency, equity, and simplicity in recreational access fee systems while accounting for the fiscal health and stability of public land management.”

The legislation also requested exploration of the potential for “federal and state permit fee coordination.”

Online: Take the survey at