OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will close public access to the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area effective Sunday (Dec. 31) through April 30 to reduce stress on wintering elk.
Earlier this month, wildlife biologists counted nearly 400 elk in the wildlife area at the foot of Mount St. Helens, and that number is likely to grow depending on the severity of the winter, said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager.
“The four-month closure is designed to help give wintering elk the best chance of survival,” Ware said. “The presence of humans can put additional stress for elk during times of cold temperatures and declining forage.”
More than 60 elk died of malnutrition and related causes last winter in the 2,744-acre wildlife area, which is owned and managed by WDFW.
Winter access closures are one of a number of strategies contained in a new management plan for the wildlife area adopted by WDFW this month, Ware said.
Other provisions of that plan, developed in consultation with a variety of area organizations, include:
- Increasing forage production for elk
- Increasing hunting opportunities to reduce the herd’s size consistent with available habitat
- Preventing erosion
- Improving habitat to facilitate the recovery of fish populations in the Toutle River Basin.
- Prohibiting dogs in the wildlife area to avoid elk harassment
A copy of the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area Management Plan is posted on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/management_plans/index.htm