Private, state and federal forest managers are reacting to the unusually dry and hot Northwest summer by closing off large swaths of deer and elk hunting ground and imposing tight controls on activities at still-open lands.
In Washington, hunters won’t be able to cut firewood, have campfires or even smoke cigarettes on state wildlife areas as we head into the meat of fall’s seasons.
An emergency order from WDFW late yesterday banned those and other activities for hunters and other recreational users on the nearly 1 million acres of land it owns or manages across the state.
“With numerous wildfires burning in Eastern Washington, firefighting crews are stretched thin,” said Greg Schirato, deputy director of agency’s wildlife program. “So it’s important that we take these steps on WDFW lands throughout the state to minimize the possibility of additional wildfires.”
WDFW owns large amounts of acreage in the Methow, Okanogan, Sinlahekin, Yakima, lower Grande Ronde and Klickitat Valleys, the upper Columbia, Columbia Basin and elsewhere.
This year has seen fires on units of the Chief Joe, Swanson Lakes, Chelan and Wells Wildlife Areas, among others. Additionally, state land, BLM property and CRP-enrolled ground in Douglas and Adams County has burned
WDFW’s move follows a burn ban on all Department of Natural Resources-protected timberlands and an Eastside burn ban issued by the governor. DNR today also closed all logging and other industrial work in forests in eastern King and Pierce Counties and the southeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula in Mason County.
Yesterday, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman warned that Beaver State hunters could see larger than usual private land closures because of fire danger when that state’s rifle deer hunt opens Sept. 29. For updates on corporate timberland closures and openings, go here.
One of the region’s largest tree farms, Weyerhaeuser, has already closed most of its forests in Oregon as well as Washington to all public access — including walk-in hunters. The exceptions at this writing, Sept. 19, are the Aberdeen and Raymond Tree Farms which are barring only vehicular travel.
WDFW says its restrictions will remain in place until conditions ease, meaning there could be some chilly nights around lanterns in Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima, Klickitat and Blue Mountains Counties come mid-October’s rifle buck hunt.
Rather than shut down hunts because of the danger, land and wildlife managers are using access closures to prevent further blazes, but that is affecting some sportsmen’s seasons, such as High Buck and early bow in Chelan County.
“There will be some hunters impacted for sure,” noted Dave Ware, WDFW game division manager yesterday.
The Wenatchee district office reports fielding “a large volume calls from hunters,” the agency reports.
As worrisome, the fires are burning up crucial mule deer winter range as well as sage grouse habitat, but it’s too early yet to say anything about their impacts with certainty.
“We don’t even have a rough assessment of the extent of the fires and certainly not the impact of the fires,” said Dave Volsen, a WDFW wildlife biologist in a voice mail left over the weekend with Northwest Sportsman. “We need to know their final areas and severity to make any sort of assessment.”
Fire on the winter grounds could actually be a good thing for deer, freshening up rank browse — just so long as a fire isn’t followed by killer snows and thaw-freeze conditions late in the year.
For more on Central and Eastern Washington’s fires, see the Sept. 10 weekly Wildlife Program update here.
WDFW’s order specifically prohibits certain activities, but makes allowances too:
Fires or campfires: However, personal camp stoves or lanterns fueled by liquid petroleum, liquid petroleum gas or propane are allowed.
Smoking: Unless in an enclosed vehicle.
Target shooting: Except at shooting ranges developed by WDFW.
Welding and the use of chainsaws and other equipment: Operating a torch with an open flame and equipment powered by an internal combustion engine is prohibited.
Operating a motor vehicle off developed roads: Except when parking in areas without vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway and parking in developed campgrounds and at trailheads.
To monitor fires, fire conditions and access, hit up these websites:
Emergency Management Division:
Incident Information System
U.S. Forest Service
Maps of Washington wildlife areas: