OLYMPIA—Some 44,000 acres of eastern Washington state wildlife land northwest of Vantage will be closed to motor vehicles from February through April to protect wintering elk from disturbance.
From Feb. 1 through April 30 next year and in 2009 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will close lands to motorized vehicle access on the Whiskey Dick and a portion of the Quilomene wildlife areas in Kittitas County. The area to be closed 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 area is about one-third of state winter range on the Whiskey Dick, Quilomene and Colockum wildlife areas.
“As early spring public recreational use of the area has increased over the past decade, elk have been abandoning their winter range on these wildlife areas as early as mid-February,” explained Ted Clausing, WDFW southcentral regional wildlife program manager of Yakima.
“Elk need to stay on winter range well into April to stay nourished and maintain overall herd health,” he said.
When elk leave the wildlife area and head to adjacent private land, they compete with cattle for forage and damage crops and stock fences, Clausing noted.
For over two years WDFW has worked to develop solutions to the problems with the Kittitas Big Game Management Roundtable, Kittitas Field and Stream Club, Kittitas County Cattlemen’s Association, Wenatchee Sportsmen, Kittitas Audubon, wildlife area citizen advisory groups and others. From those discussions and public meetings conducted last fall and this summer, several options were developed.
“We looked options ranging from complete seasonal closures for both motorized and non-motorized access on all three wildlife areas, to no action,” Clausing said. “What we’ve come up with is a pilot approach, beginning with closing motorized access to some of the winter range, and watching carefully over the next two years to see what that does for elk and agricultural damage.”
Clausing said WDFW will review results of the two years of seasonal closures and discuss modifications or expansions at a public meeting in 2009.
The Whiskey Dick closure is consistent with other existing winter-range closures on the Oak Creek, Wenas and L.T. Murray wildlife areas, Clausing said.