As of Tuesday, February 3, 2015
ELLENSBURG About 44,000 acres of wildlife land east of town will be seasonally closed to motor vehicles Feb. 1 through April 30 to protect wintering elk.
The winter closure includes portions of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, which is managed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The closure only restricts motorized vehicle access; the public may still access the area by foot, horseback, or mountain bike.
The area subject to the closure is north of the Vantage Highway, south of Quilomene Ridge Road, east of the Wild Horse Wind Farm and west of the Columbia River. This is the eighth year of the seasonal closure of the wildlife area lands, said Scott McCorquodale, regional wildlife manager for state DFW.
About 2,000 elk — nearly half the Colockum elk herd — spend winters on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene sections of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.
“Vehicle traffic can disturb these elk and reduce their use of habitat near roads,” McCorquodale said. “Reducing vehicle traffic on the wildlife area also may encourage wintering elk to remain on the public land rather than straying to nearby private lands.”
The winter closure is included in the new Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan, developed by state DFW and the Department of Natural Resources. The plan addresses recreation and public access for roughly 230,000 acres of DNR and DFW land stretching from the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range to the Columbia River.
The plan is available online at http://www.dnr.wa.gov/RecreationEducation/Topics/RecreationPlanning/Pages/amp_rec_naneum_rec_planning.aspx.
Under the plan, one road, which receives minimal winter traffic, will remain open to the public. The road travels south from Quilomene Ridge Road along Jackknife Ridge to the northern boundary of the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. From there, a three-mile stretch of road through the park ultimately connects with Old Vantage Highway. Washington State Parks manages the park road under a permit system, providing free permits onsite.
The three-month seasonal closure is consistent with winter-range closures elsewhere in the state, including the Oak Creek and Wenas wildlife areas. Seasonal closures also occur on critical big-game winter ranges in several other western states, including Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming.