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Some Idaho hunters can exchange tags due to fire closures

HUNTING —  Idaho Fish and Game is extending the deadline to exchange tags for some early elk hunts that are about to start, or have already started, in the Panhandle, Clearwater and McCall areas that have large land closures because of wildfires.

Fish and Game will not refund tags, but hunters who bought the following tags have until Sept. 11 to decide if they want to keep their tags, exchange them for a different elk tag, or turn in their tags for a receipt they can redeem at no cost for another tag later this year. Tags can only be exchanged at regional offices, but hunters choosing the receipt option can redeem it for a tag at any Fish and Game license vendor. 

Elk tags eligible are:

  • Panhandle Zone A and B tags.
  • Lolo Zone A tags
  • Dworshak Zone A and B tags
  • Elk City Zone A and B tags.
  • McCall Zone A tag.

Here are more details from IFG:

Elk hunters who have the above tags and want a receipt can also mail their tags to any regional Fish and Game office, which must be postmarked by Sept. 11. After hunters get the receipt, they can redeem it for any general season elk tag, except elk zones where tag quotas are in place and the quota is already sold out.

Some of the above hunts will have already opened by Sept.11, which typically means hunters would have to decide whether to exchange their tags prior to the beginning of the hunt. With large land closures affecting those hunts, Fish and Game officials wanted to allow those elk hunters as much time as possible to make informed decisions.

Hunters still have the option of exchanging other tags at any Fish and Game regional office, but they must do so before their hunt starts. 

All hunters should consider that fire conditions can change quickly with favorable weather and forests can reopen. Fire season tends to taper off by mid-September and is usually over by mid-October when most any-weapon hunts start.

Fish and Game officials are monitoring the fire situation throughout the state and will consider changes on a limited basis, where necessary, to ensure hunters are treated fairly.

See the Idaho Fish and Game wildfire web page.

Fish and Game’s standard policy is to not change hunts or rules due to fire closures because entire hunting units are rarely closed, and fire restriction rarely last through the entire hunting season.  But this is an unusual fire season, particularly in the Panhandle and Clearwater areas that are experiencing the worst fire season since the 1920s.

Clearwater-Nez Perce closes most of forest to public access as wind whips up fires

WILDFIRES — Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest officials closed more than 3.5 million acres to public access this afternoon as numerous fires totaling 80,000 acres on Friday spread significantly today in windy conditions.

Wind gusts in Lewiston registered up to 72 mph today.

The exception to the closure is the Palouse District, which has its office at Potlatch, Idaho.

In the Blue Mountains, a new fire blew up in the Tucannon River area near Dayton.

Here's the release just posted from forest officials based in Orofino:

Many of the widespread wildfires on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests made significant runs today, pushed by gusty winds and low relative humidities.

“The weather conditions that materialized today were even worse than predicted,” said Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert.  “I am extremely concerned about the safety of the people, communities and firefighters that may be in the paths of these rapidly-spreading fires.”

As a precautionary measure during extensive and severe fire activity, the Forests have issued an area closure prohibiting “human entry” into lands managed by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, with the exception of the Palouse Ranger District.

“I understand this will be inconvenient for some people, but our priority is public safety.  We will evaluate the situation on a day-by-day basis, but it will take a significant change in weather to improve our fire situation.”

Forest Supervisor Probert requests that all visitors re-locate to lands outside the Forests away from fire activity, and that all prospective visitors find alternate locations away from the closure area.
National forest system roads can be used to exit the Forest.  For state and county road information, contact the local sheriff’s office and Idaho Department of Transportation.

Fire managers are in the process of evaluating the spread of area fires and will provide revised acreage updates tomorrow.

See updates on the forests'  Fire Information website.

The Palouse District encompasses 500,000 gross acres of which there are about 145,000 net acres of National Forest System lands.

Potlatch timber company, which also has land in the region, closed its forests to public access in July because of extreme fire danger.


Campfire ban extended at Lake Roosevelt

PUBLIC LANDS — No campfires will be allowed at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area except at designated grated campfire sites at least through Sunday.  See the park's announcement issued Monday: 

In accordance with the 2012 Superintendent’s Compendium, Acting Superintendent Natalie Gates has extended the ban for campfires on the exposed lakebed through midnight on October 7, 2012.

Campfires in park-provided fire grates at developed campgrounds are allowed.  The use of gas and propane barbeques and self-contained stoves is allowed in the recreation area. 

Campfires are never allowed on the beach area above the exposed lakebed.

Impact of fires on wildlife won’t be known until spring

WILDLIFE LANDS — Wild fires continue to char and in some cases nuke forests and other wildlife habitat in scattered areas around the Inland Northwest.  But the future isn't all black.

Before-after-photos at Naneum Lake (above) hint at the impact of the Table Mountain Fire, which has spread over thousands of acres along with other forest fires in the Ellensburg-Leavenworth-Wenatchee area. The fires were ignited by lightning storms around Sept. 9, 2012.

Some areas have been reopened to public access, but hunters need to check ahead with the Forest Service, DNR and Washington Fish and Wildlife Department for closures to distinct areas in the Wenatchee region.

This photo comparison doesn't look good, but Washington Fish and Wildlife experts say the damage/benefits to the Colockum elk herd won't be known until next spring when they can assess the ratio of hot-burned areas with the areas that  were lightly burned or skipped-over by the flames.

The fires ultimately will be good for wildlife.

The question is whether the recovery will be measured in years or decades.

Peak fire season tips for hunters

HUNTING — It's not news that the fields are dry and fire danger is extreme.

But don't let your guard down when you go out hunting or recreating.  One thoughtless moment in these conditions can be costly.

Hunters, who have an especially big responsibility to be fire conscious, should:

  • Drive only on established roads.
  • Avoid roads with tall vegetation in the middle track.
  • Never park over dry grass and other vegetation.
  • Carry a fire extinguisher—or water-filled weed sprayer—shovel, axe, and, a cell phone for communications in addition to other outdoor safety gear.
  • Restrict camping activities to designated camping areas.
  • Not build campfires.
  • Smoke only inside buildings or vehicles.

Being able to respond is essential in the first few seconds of a fire start when it is small and easily extinguished.

Mount Adams fire closes part of Pacific Crest Trail

TRAILS — A wildfire burning near Mount Adams forced the closure of part of the Pacific Crest Trail late Thursday.

The closed segment of the trail is between the Williams Mine Trailhead off Forest Road 23 to the junction of the Divide Trail on the Mt. Adams, Ranger District, said Ken Sandusky of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Call the district office for more information, (509) 395-3402.

The Cascade Creek fire, apparently sparked by lightning storms near Mount Adams on Sept. 8, has burned 9,800 acres. Firefighters say its only about 50 percent contained.

Map shows forest areas closed by fires in Leavenworth-Wenatchee area

FOREST FIRES — The map above from the Wenatchee National Forest shows areas off limits to visitors because of forest fires in the Central Washington area.

The closures affect hikes in prime season and hunters out for Washington's early High Buck Hunt that opened Saturday.

Cool-headed backpackers evacuate Alpine Lakes as fires close in

BACKPACKING — After reading my post this morning about fire-related closures affecting hikers in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness,  Stephanie Akker of Kennewick emailed me the photo (above) snapped Saturday from the Colchuck Lake area as she decided to evacuate during the night to safety. 

I was happy to see your article on-line as I have been scouring for more info since we backpacked out of Colchuck, in the dark, Saturday night. 

Attached is a photo of the fire from our campsite on the north end of Colchuck.  We day hiked into the Enchantments Saturday after camping at Colchuck Friday night. We chose to evacuate after watching the fire grow dramatically over the course of 24 hours and also considering the proximity to the parking lot. 

Yes, we had to forgo our coveted permit, but felt it better safe than sorry. 

Read on for her photo of Colchuck Lake, a scene that helps you understand why it was no easy decision to leave.

Fires restrict access to Alpine Lakes Wilderness, other areas

HIKING — Many backpackers with coveted permits for the prime September season in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in northcentral Washington are finding their plans up in smoke.

Area includes Eightmile Road, Colchuck, Stuart, Eightmile, Caroline, and Trout lakes, and the Windy Pass portion of the Enchantment area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness due to a fire burning Many Enchantment area overnight camping permits are cancelled. However, the Enchantment Basin itself remains open at this time with access via Snow Creek Trail. Please call the Wenatchee River Ranger Station for more information on which permits are cancelled.

See a photo and report from a backpacker who self-evacuated Colchuck Lake Saturday night as fires closed in.

Read on for the latest press release and details from the Wenatchee National Forest.