OLYMPIA - Roads that had been closed are now open to offset new road closures on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) L.T. Murray Wildlife Area west of Ellensburg.
The road shuffle, which began with a spring storm washout, is of particular interest to hunters, campers, and other outdoor recreationists who traditionally use the 50,000-acre property in Kittitas County.
Seven miles of road next to Robinson and Ainsley creeks were closed this summer after a rain-on-snow storm in early April washed out several sections of road and created a public safety hazard. To protect fish and riparian habitat from siltation and erosion, WDFW opted to close the road sections permanently. The closure is in accordance with theWashington Forest Practice Act's new Forest and Fish Rules, which define road construction and maintenance standards for protecting fish-bearing waters.
To offset the new closure, WDFW recommended opening five miles of two closed roads that are away from creeks and provide access to the ridge tops along Robinson and Ainsley canyons – Robinson View Road to the south and Page Ridge Road to the north.
WDFW gained support for the road closings and openings in meetings with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Kittitas County Commissioners, and Kittitas County Field and Stream Club.
"One of the greatest impacts of this closure is the loss of several traditional hunting camp sites located along creek bottoms," said WDFW acting wildlife area manager Mark Teske of Ellensburg. "The new roads opened are much steeper and rougher than those along the bottom, so it will be hard for large trailers and motor homes to traverse. But there should be adequate space for these larger vehicles at the entrance to Robinson Canyon and along the lower portion of Robinson View road."
Teske noted that the closure protects more than fish habitat.
"Wildlife will benefit from less disturbance, too," he explained, "And that means big game hunting opportunities in these areas should also improve."
The L.T. Murray supports a large elk herd, along with mule deer, bear, cougar, and many non-game species including spotted owls, northern goshawk, golden eagles, and pileated woodpeckers.
For the past ten years, WDFW has managed the wildlife area under a "Green Dot" program in which roads open for motor vehicle use are marked with green dots. A new version of the wildlife area's Green Dot road map, including the Robinson-Ainsley road changes, is now available in WDFW's Yakima regional office and Ellensburg field office.
Meanwhile, the seven miles of creek bottom road are being put to rest through work that should be completed by this time next year. That includes pulling all culverts, removing one bridge, installing cross drains to keep sediment out of the creek and ripping portions of road bed so grass can be sown.