Almost half of the elk and bighorn sheep and nearly a third of the deer in the Tucannon Game Management Unit (166) of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County have been lost to the School wildfire that burned there in August.
Carcasses of up to 200 elk, 150 deer and eight bighorn sheep were recently discovered by foresters and wildlife biologists surveying the burned-over area to determine salvage- logging operations and habitat restoration needs.
Earlier post-fire damage assessments estimated no major loss of wildlife, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Eastern Regional Wildlife Program Manager Kevin Robinette. Ground access to most areas of the burn was earlier prohibited as a safety measure, and aerial surveys did not reveal the ash-covered carcasses.
The Tucannon unit usually winters 400 – 500 elk, about 500 deer and 17 bighorn sheep, Robinette said. The entire Blue Mountains area in Washington, including a dozen game management units, supports over 10,000 deer, about 4,500 elk and 250 bighorn sheep.
The School Fire was the largest wildfire in the lower 48 states this year, burning a total of 51,924 acres between its start on Aug. 5 and its containment on Aug. 18, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Almost all of the Wooten Wildlife Area’s 11,778 acres were within the fire perimeter.
Until last month, use was restricted to some campgrounds and roads.
Revenue from salvage logging in the burned area will pay for reforestation, riparian plantings and other efforts to restore the area.