DNR lands in Eastern Washington will temporarily close to public access starting this Friday, impacting campgrounds and other recreational sites and areas managed by the agency, while WDFW’s Eastside wildlife areas and water access sites within them will only be open for day use starting July 23 as well.
The moves come as red flag warnings stretch from valleys on the eastern slopes of the Cascades – where two fires sent up plumes of smoke visible from Everett and West Seattle yesterday afternoon – to the Idaho border and drought conditions deepen across the Columbia Basin and state.
Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who visited the site of last week’s Red Apple Fire just outside Wenatchee, said in a press release that the region faces “an ongoing, tremendous risk of wildfire.”
“Our firefighters are already stretched thin fighting major fires across our state. We must take reasonable steps – and make sacrifices – in order to protect them and our communities,” she said.
The closure affects a total of 1,447,000 acres of DNR land, per spokeswoman Paige DeChambeau, with 567,000 of those acres in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Spokane and northern Lincoln Counties and the other 880,000 in the southern two-thirds of Eastern Washington.
The decision was “based on a number of factors, including current extreme hot and dry conditions, a forecast that shows no meaningful precipitation in the near future, current fuel loads, and a concern for public safety,” according to DNR.
The agency’s announcement specified that the closure applied to its “state lands, conservation areas, community forests and any associated roads, trails, campgrounds, recreational sites or recreational facilities.”
While Washington’s primary hunting seasons have yet to begin, fisheries such as Chopaka Lake will be impacted by the closure.
In a twin announcement, WDFW said its 700,000 acres of wildlife areas in Eastern Washington and water access sites on them would also only be open for day use starting this Friday, meaning no overnight camping.
“The overnight use and Methow and Southeast Washington wildlife areas closures will be in effect until further notice,” WDFW said in a press release. “State land managers will meet weekly to assess the possibility for further closures or reopenings. Current closures apply to both motorized and on-foot uses. Water access areas that are not part of a wildlife area will not be limited to day use only unless posted otherwise.
And in early July, fires, campfires, smoking outside of a vehicle, target shooting, operating chainsaws and driving offroad were prohibited on them.
“Members of the public engaged in these high-risk activities will be ticketed as WDFW enforcement officers will be applying a zero-tolerance approach,” WDFW said in a press release today.
The Umatilla National Forest has also closed its entire border-straddling forest to public access, and the Colville Tribes also closed their reservation.
Per DNR, fire starts across the state are double the average over the past decade and there are still “months of fire season to go.”
There’s also a burn ban on lands under DNR protection, which includes WDFW wildlife areas and water access sites.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s update this past Thursday., conditions ranged from abnormally dry near the Cascade Crest to exceptional drought in the southern Columbia Basin and the mouth of Hells Canyon, with a huge swath of the Eastside under extreme drought.