CHEWELAH – Disabled hunters made more than 200 trips last year to hunt wildlife on Colville National Forest access roads specifically designed to accommodate them.
The roads were so popular, officials this week announced four new routes will be added for hunters with disabilities.
In addition to three routes on U.S. Forest Service land, this fall disabled hunters will have access to a system with nearly 50 miles of roads that are closed to all motorized vehicles except theirs.
“If you are a hunter and you are disabled, you are almost out of the game,” said Franklin Pemberton, a Forest Service spokesman.
The statewide Disabled Hunter Access Program provides access to hunters who still want to participate in the sport, but who otherwise aren’t able to because of limited mobility, Pemberton said.
The program coincides with the regular hunting season for various game, beginning Sept. 1. Disabled hunters issued a special access permit will be given a lock combination to open gated roads, which are closed to motor vehicle use by the general public. The roads are maintained, and situated in areas known to be abundant with wildlife.
Anybody is welcome to walk the roads, but motorized access will be limited to disabled hunters registered with the program, officials said.
On Monday, forest biologist Jim McGowan walked along the Brewer Mountain access road north of Chewelah, pointing to logs and other debris that will be removed to accommodate motorized vehicles. A family of white-tailed deer darted across the road 50 yards ahead.
“We are not taking anything away from the public that they didn’t already have,” McGowan said. “To me it’s just a relatively simple, inexpensive way to keep some folks that have taken some bad shots in life, and keeping them involved in the hunting they enjoy.”
The additional access roads, situated on national forest land within Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry counties, were made possible through the Northwest Washington Forest Coalition, composed of environment, timber and business groups. The nonprofit organization wrote the grant to pay for information packets that will be distributed to disabled hunters interested in the program, and the coordination of volunteers to clear the roads of debris and make them more accessible.
The grant also paid for a survey of hunters who used the roads last year. Out of 133 hunters surveyed across the state, nearly 68 percent responded. About 36 percent of the hunters were from Spokane County.
While permits to other disabled hunting access sites on Washington lands are available only through a lottery system, access to Colville National Forest access roads for disabled hunters will be unlimited.
“We’ve tried to make it as unrestrictive as we could,” McGowan said. “We are prepared to issue as many permits as people apply.”