WILDLIFE — For the fifth consecutive year, about 44,000 acres of state wildlife land east of Ellensburg will be closed to motor vehicles Feb. 1-April 30 to protect wintering elk from disturbance.
Keeping the elk on the state wildlife areas should keep more elk from moving to private lands where they can cause crop damage, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The agency will temporarily close the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area and a portion of the Quilomene Wildlife Area 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.
Read on for details from the WDFW:
The effectiveness of the seasonal road closure in keeping elk off croplands is being evaluated by monitoring the movements of elk equipped with tracking collars.
About 2,000 elk—nearly half the Colockum elk herd—winter on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene areas, according to WDFW Southcentral Regional Wildlife Manager Ted Clausing. Forty-three of the elk are fitted with global positioning system (GPS) devices to track their movements. Biologists use the data to assess the animals’ response to the closure.
The information will be used to determine whather the seasonal closure should be made each year.
The three-month seasonal closure is consistent with winter-range closures elsewhere in the state, including the Oak Creek, Wenas and L.T. Murray wildlife areas. Seasonal closures also occur on critical big-game winter ranges in several other western states, including Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming.
Research from across the western United States indicates vehicle traffic can disturb elk and significantly reduce their use of habitat near roads, according to Scott McCorquodale, a WDFW elk researcher.
“The zone influenced by roads can be quite large in open areas such as the Colockum elk winter range,” said McCorquodale.