YAKIMA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) warns Rattlesnake Hills area elk hunters that access is very limited for special hunting seasons that start next month and in early September.
This month up to 20 special antlerless elk hunting permits were awarded by drawing to Advanced Hunter Education (AHE) Master Hunter applicants for an elk damage control hunt in the Rattlesnake Hills area that may run from August 1 through February 28, depending on damage activity.
That controlled hunt will be conducted in portions of the Kiona or 372 Game Management Unit (GMU), which includes Benton County and parts of eastern Yakima County where growing elk numbers are causing damage to agricultural crops and other property.
GMU 372 is also open to general modern firearm antlerless elk hunting Sept. 7 -19 and Oct. 4 - 17, modern firearm any elk hunting Oct. 30 - Nov. 7, and archery any elk hunting Nov. 20 - Dec. 8. Hunters with an appropriate elk tag and hunting license can participate in these hunts without a special permit, but landowner permission is required to hunt on all private lands.
"The limited access issue in GMU 372 during the general elk season is what concerns us most," said WDFW regional wildlife program manager Lee Stream.
The majority of GMU 372 is private land, but it also includes the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Nuclear Reservation and part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Hanford Reach National Monument/Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
Stream said there are a few parcels of WDFW, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands within the area, but they do not hold many elk and usually are crowded with hunters. The 57,000-acre Wahluke Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument, in GMUs 278 and 381, is open to elk hunting for archery, muzzleloader, and shotguns only, but it also generally has few elk.
Other parts of USFWS property, including the Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, hold many elk but are closed to all hunting. WDFW southcentral regional director Jeff Tayer has been working with federal authorities to provide some hunting on the federal land to relieve some of the elk damage on surrounding private land.
"We've been trying for 20 years to resolve this problem," Tayer said, "but with little satisfaction. Draft land management plans for the refuge haven't even included options with hunting."
Stream notes that the state hunting rules pamphlet explains that the majority of unit 372 is in private land ownership and access is very limited.
"We're asking hunters to read the fine print and take the time to scout and to secure permission to hunt before going afield," Stream said. "It is the hunter's responsibility to plan their hunts to avoid trespassing on private lands."
Stream advises those who want to participate in the elk hunts to make landowner contacts this summer to try to secure permission before the seasons start.