OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has closed the entire Wenas Wildlife Area to target shooting until Oct. 1, after several wildfires have burned the property near Ellensburg.
The closure, announced Friday, bans target shooting 24 hours per day at the wildlife area. Public notice of the closure will be posted at all entry points and established target shooting sites within the Wenas Wildlife Area.
WDFW adopted the closure in cooperation with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which owns lands within the 114,150-acre wildlife area.
Cindi Confer Morris, who manages the WDFW wildlife area, noted the agency restricted target-shooting to morning hours earlier this month, a step WDFW has taken the last three years to reduce wildfire risk.
"Even with the restrictions, four wildfires have been started on or near the wildlife area already this year," Confer Morris said.
The most recent fire, which scorched nearly 10,000 acres, is believed to have started at a nearby Cottonwood Creek shooting area and spread across the wildlife area. Two other fires at the Wenas Wildlife Area were sparked by target shooting; fireworks started a fourth.
According to wildfire experts at DNR, people cause 85 percent of Washington's wildfires. Common causes include unattended campfires, fireworks, hot vehicle mufflers on dry grass, target shooting and careless disposal of cigarettes.
"This area and the rest of eastern Washington are experiencing drier than usual conditions, which call for added precaution," Confer Morris said. "It's important for the public to take steps to preserve public recreation lands and wildlife habitat."
Confer Morris said the ban applies to this year's fire season only. WDFW will continue to involve the public in developing comprehensive rules for target shooting on the wildlife area.
Like all of WDFW's wildlife areas and water-access sites across the state, the Wenas Wildlife Area also has restrictions on campfires and prohibitions on fireworks and incendiary devices, including tracer rounds and exploding targets, to reduce the risk of wildfire.
For more information on WDFW wildlife areas, see the department's website at wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas.