OLYMPIA – For hunters planning to take to the field in September, access closures sparked by a major wildfire burning in southeast Washington demonstrate the importance of keeping abreast of fire conditions, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) warned today.
On Wednesday (Aug. 30), the U.S. Forest Service closed the Washington portion of the Umatilla National Forest in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, where the Columbia Complex Wildland Fire now spans more than 76,000 acres.
All lands, roads and trails north of the Washington-Oregon border, as well as the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area in both states, are now closed to public access. The fire, which started from lightning Aug. 21, is only 20 percent contained.
The blaze in southeast Washington is one of several wildfires burning around the state that have prompted the Forest Service and other landowners to close their lands to the public.
“Conditions are changing so fast right now that there’s really no telling what lands will be open to hunters when the seasons open,” said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager. “We strongly recommend that hunters keep tabs on conditions in the areas they intend to hunt right up until the day they plan to leave.”
Hunters and others hoping to spend time in the Umatilla Forest can check for the latest information on that fire at http://inciweb.org/incident/443/ or by calling the U.S. Forest Service at 541-278-3716.
Access restrictions and other information about all other public land wildfires currently burning in Washington state – including the more than 147,000-acre Tripod Complex Fire in Okanogan County where major closures remain in effect – can be found at http://inciweb.org/state/49/.
Conditions and access restrictions on other private and public land wildfires are reported by county on the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fire information webpage (http://www.dnr.wa.gov/fire/index.html) and on the DNR toll-free fire information line, 800-323-BURN.
With wildfire danger high throughout the state, WDFW currently prohibits open fires on its 830,000-plus acres of owned or managed wildlife areas and water access sites. The ban follows fire restrictions set by DNR.
Hunting seasons for forest grouse, mourning dove and rabbit open statewide Sept.1. Early archery deer hunting also opens Sept. 1 in some game management units. Black bear hunting in the Blue Mountains and Northeast Washington opens Sept. 5, followed by early archery elk hunting in some units Sept. 8. Northcentral Washington’s high buck deer hunt opens Sept. 15.
Virtually all of those game animals are hunted in the Umatilla National Forest, Ware said.
“Hunters interested in those seasons have many hunting options,” he said. “Now may be the time for hunters who have gone to the same places every year to try someplace new.”
Ware also reminded hunters to take extra caution with anything that could start a fire while hunting and in hunting camps.