Washington Closes 44,000 Acres to Vehicles to Protect Elk

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About 44,000 acres of eastern Washington state wildlife land northwest of Vantage have been closed to motor vehicles through April to protect wintering elk from disturbance.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed lands to motorized vehicle access Feb. 1 and will maintain the closure through April 30 on the Whiskey Dick and a portion of the Quilomene wildlife areas in Kittitas County. The closed area 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.

"Early-spring recreational use of the area has increased over the past decade, causing elk to abandon their winter range on these wildlife areas as early as mid-February," said Ted Clausing of Yakima, WDFW's regional wildlife program manager for the area.

"Elk need to stay on winter range well into April to stay nourished and maintain the health of the herd."

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.

WDFW has worked with local partners to manage wintering elk, involving the Kittitas Big Game Management Roundtable, Kittitas Field and Stream Club, Kittitas County Cattlemen's Association, Wenatchee Sportsmen, Kittitas Audubon, citizen advisory groups for local wildlife areas and others.

"We looked at several options, and last year we began this closure as a two-year experiment to see what it does for elk and agricultural damage. We'll review results and discuss modifications at a public meeting later this year," Clausing said

The Whiskey Dick closure is consistent with other existing winter-range closures on the Oak Creek, Wenas and L.T. Murray wildlife areas elsewhere in the state.