Labor Day plans may require extra work

The heat is on for outdoorsmen heading out for the Labor Day weekend, the opening of several hunting seasons and one of the most popular backpacking and camping weekends of the year.

Even with the recent splash of moisture, the woods are corn-flakes dry in most areas. Restrictions are coming and going like smoke in the valleys.

Advance planning can prevent potential disappointment during the current drought of options.

I’m stuffing my English setter’s ears full of cotton before heading out for dove and grouse seasons that open Friday. Spring rains produced a bounty of invasive weeds. They call them “invasive” because their sole purpose on earth is to produce seeds and spears that cure in the August heat so they’re prime for invading the ears, eyelids, noses and toes of prized hunting dogs.

Veterinarians consider cheatgrass a lucrative cash crop.

Backpackers and hunters heading away from the crowds in the developed campgrounds should check with Forest Service ranger stations and Web sites to see which roads and trails are closed because of fires.

My daughter asked me for suggestions on where she and friends could go backpacking this weekend. One of my first thoughts was Upper Priest River area, with its huge old-growth cedars and the prospect of a refreshing posthike dip in Priest Lake on the way home.

But a check with the Panhandle National Forests revealed that Upper Priest River Trail 308 and six other trails in the upper Priest and Salmo-Priest Wilderness areas are closed because of active fires.

Navigation Campground on Upper Priest Lake is closed for public safety as helicopters hover over the area to scoop loads of water for fire fighting.

Fire is thwarting access to other favorite backpacking destinations. The Long Canyon drainage of the Idaho Selkirks northwest of Bonners Ferry is closed. So are the Fawn Lake Trail and possibly other routes in the Mallard-Larkins area south of the St. Joe River.

Active forest fires also are shutting down choice backcountry areas in the Ulm Peak region of the Clark Fork drainage and the Tripod Fire complex in the Methow drainage.

Conconully State Park in the Okanogan region is closed, but private campgrounds in the area remain open.

Extremely dry conditions have prompted campfire restrictions in many areas, including the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests, all Bureau of Land Management areas and lands managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Idaho Panhandle National forest has not enacted fire restrictions, but officials warn that extreme care must be taken with fire, cigarettes, barbecues and anything else that sparks or burns.

Keep vehicles on roads and parking areas. Hot exhaust systems can ignite fires.

During fire season, all vehicles, including motorcycles and ATVs, must carry a shovel and bucket for dealing with fires. (A helmet can double as a bucket.)

Wildlife must adapt to the dry conditions, too.

Last weekend, I hiked high ridges near Kettle Falls where the dearth of wildlife tracks or sign was disturbing. Berries have dried up in most areas and everything from grouse to elk and bears are concentrated closer to water.

Priest Lake already has had major issues with black bears seeking food in campgrounds this summer. Two bears at Luby Bay and one at Lions Head had to be trapped and relocated.

The bear that swam out to Kalispell Island and took a liking to camp food this summer didn’t fare so well. He was shot by Idaho Fish and Game officials.

The Forest Service continues to require campers to store all food and toiletries in airtight containers in your vehicle’s trunk or use bear-proof containers.

Dispose of garbage properly. Don’t burn or bury trash.

Never approach bears or offer them food, and I’m not just talking about campers. Cabin owners have a duty to keep wildlife from becoming beggars. That means hanging bird feeders 10 feet high and at least 4 feet out from the trunk or any branches to keep bears from reaching the seed.

These precautions shouldn’t keep people from having fun outdoors this weekend.

As always, leave a trip plan with friends or relatives back home. Include destination, times of arrivals and departures, and contact information in case of emergency or overdue travel.

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