State wildlife areas, parks and water access sites in Washington will close for at least two weeks starting tomorrow, Wednesday, March 25, managers announced this afternoon.
It’s the latest response meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 as officials drive home the point to stay home to save lives. Washington’s death toll stands at 110 as of yesterday, with 2,221 confirmed cases.
It follows on Governor Inslee’s statewide order late Monday that requires residents to stay home except for essential activities, banned all “social, spiritual and recreational” gatherings, and closed nonessential businesses for at least the next two weeks as well.
“WDFW officials deemed the closures necessary to reduce traveling around the state and support recommended social distancing and sanitization practices,” the agency said on its coronavirus response page.
State wildlife areas cover around a million acres across the state, with much of it up and down Central Washington, the Columbia Basin and Blue Mountains fringes.
WDFW’s hundreds of water accesses provide a gateway to many Puget Sound lakes and Westside rivers, among others across Washington.
“Entrance gates and facilities will be closed, and on-site public services will be suspended. Essential staff will be present to preserve and protect resources,” the agency stated in a press release.
The most impacted people are those without a boat on a lake or at a saltwater marina, don’t have waterfront property on a river, or large block of land of their own to hunt, meaning the bulk of Washington sportsmen.
Reaction to the news on social media was mixed, with anger, sadness and resignation — as well as some support too.
“It’s 2 weeks. Just ride it out. It sucks, I agree. If everyone does their part hopefully we will move past this sooner than later and be able to enjoy our resources,” posted hunter Rachel Voss on WDFW’s Facebook page.
State campgrounds on WDFW, DNR and State Parks lands were closed over last weekend through at least April 30.
Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks also moved today to close nearly all entrance roads, and yesterday Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area announced the docks were being pulled from the reservoir. The Nature Conservancy also closed its lands in Washington, per The Seattle Times.
WDFW continues to say that, otherwise, fishing and hunting seasons still remain open, though places to do so are also declining by the day if not hour as access is reduced.
Communities have been acting to bar that access on their own, with ecology blocks photographed in front of the Ilwaco boat ramp, and the Westport and Everett launches closed to recreational fishing boats, per reports. This evening the City of Seattle closed parking areas around Green Lake, which is typically well stocked with trout.
The moves essentially remove the impetus for the time being to travel to distant and nearby locations across Washington whether to fish, hunt, hike, et cetera, and might involve a stop at a local gas station or grocery store for supplies and result in an interaction with others.
WDFW urged residents to “cooperate … in this unprecedented time.”
The closest analog to the current situation might be during the time of The Blob in summer 2015 when WDFW and ODFW implemented river fishing restrictions to protect salmon, steelhead and char in historically low and hot streams, or during the huge fires of 2014 and 2015 when national forests closed roads and trails to stricken areas.
Late this afternoon, ODFW also announced that while trout stocking would continue at lakes, the online schedule had been removed from the agency’s website “to prevent public crowding at water bodies when we deliver hatchery fish.”
ODFW said that popular waters would continue to see trout releases “as long as” anglers maintained social distancing — 6 feet minimum to prevent the spread of coronavirus germs.
“We want to spread out angling effort in terms of timing and physical distance between anglers by not sharing our stocking schedule with the public. ODFW thanks anglers for their understanding and doing their part to keep each other safe,” the agency said.