About 44,000 acres of state wildlife land east of Ellensburg is closed to motor vehicles until May 1 to protect wintering elk from disturbance.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has temporarily closed the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area and a portion of the Quilomene Wildlife Area in Kittitas County. The closed area is north of the Vantage Highway, south of Quilomene Ridge Road, east of the Wild Horse Wind Farm and west of the Columbia River.
The three-month, seasonal closure is consistent with winter-range closures elsewhere in the state, including the Oak Creek, Wenas and L.T. Murray wildlife areas. Seasonal closures also occur on critical big-game winter ranges in several other western states, including Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming. This is the fourth year of seasonal closures on the Ellensburg-area wildlife lands.
About 4,600 animals—the majority of the Colockum elk herd—winters on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene areas, as well as other lands adjacent to the Columbia River, according to WDFW Wildlife Biologist Anthony Novack. Fifty-two of the elk are fitted with global positioning system (GPS) devices to track their movements and assess their response to the closure.
“Maintaining the closure and continuing to track elk through this winter will improve our ability to judge the success of the closure,” said Jeff Tayer, WDFW south-central regional director. “We have enough information to recommend a permanent, early-spring vehicle closure.
However, we’re evaluating the radio telemetry data to ensure we’re not restricting use more than necessary.”
Research from across the West indicates vehicle traffic can disturb elk and significantly reduce their use of habitat near roads, according to Scott McCorquodale, a WDFW elk researcher.
“The zone influenced by roads can be quite large in open areas such as the Colockum elk winter range,” said McCorquodale.
WDFW works to manage wintering elk in the area in cooperation with local partners, including the Kittitas Big Game Management Roundtable, Kittitas Field and Stream Club, Kittitas County Cattlemen’s Association, Wenatchee Sportsmen, Kittitas Audubon and citizen advisory groups for local wildlife areas.