OLYMPIA - Recent safety closures of public and private lands near Mount St. Helens mean hunters may not be allowed to enter several popular hunting areas around the mountain, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
Game management units affected include portions of 516 (Packwood), 520 (Winston), 524 (Margaret), 554 (Yale), 556 (Toutle), 558 (Marble), 560 (Lewis River) and 572 (Siouxon).
The access restrictions conform with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) closure of state lands within a 12-mile radius of the mountain and the Weyerhaeuser Co. closure of all its Mount St. Helens-area lands east of Interstate 5 as a safety precaution. The U.S. Forest Service earlier closed trails near the mountain's crater and is considering further closures. All the closures were prompted by a U.S. Geological Survey alert that hazardous volcanic activity is likely at the mountain.
Early muzzleloader hunts for deer and elk are scheduled to run Oct. 2-8 statewide. Modern firearm deer and elk hunts begin Oct. 16. In addition, forest grouse hunting has been under way since Sept. 1.
"These closures-coming on the eve of fall game seasons-obviously will be a disappointment for many hunters," said Dave Brittell, assistant director for the WDFW Wildlife Program. "However, this is a dynamic situation and public safety is the primary concern."
For updates on public access, hunters and other outdoor recreationists should check DNR's website at www.dnr.wa.gov , contact the U. S. Forest Service at (360) 247-3900 or call Weyerhaeuser's access hotline at 1-866-636-6531.
In addition to affecting hunting activity, the closures also have prompted WDFW to limit fish- and wildlife-management activities in the area to ensure employee safety. Among the activites that could be affected by the closure is a scheduled Oct. 8 joint state-tribal elk transfer operation that would have captured 50 elk for release in the Nooksack watershed in Whatcom County.