"Contrary to what some might think, most of Okanogan County did not burn," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) North Central Regional Director Jim Brown. "Many great outdoor opportunities remain, even in some areas touched by the fires. Most people's hunting and fishing trips will be as enjoyable as ever."
WDFW wildlife areas and water access sites in the north central region are open, and information about recreation on federal lands is available from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest: http://www.fs.usda.gov./detail/okawen/home/?cid=stelprd3812214 .
The Carlton Complex Fire burned more than 250,000 acres - about 400 square miles - including lands in the Methow and Okanogan river valleys that have provided much of the winter range for a herd of 14,000 mule deer. The herd includes year-round resident deer as well as "high-country" animals that move to lower elevations in the winter.
Brown said natural regeneration of the burned wildlife habitat has already begun, but the area will not be able to support the usual number of deer this winter. WDFW wildlife biologists estimate reducing the population by 7 percent will improve long-term range restoration as well as the herd's overall vitality.
Matt Monda, WDFW regional wildlife manager, said the department will issue more special hunting permits to help reduce the number of deer to a level that the remaining winter range can support.
"We're being conservative in reducing the size of the herd because we are still assessing the amount of regrowth that is occurring, and we can't predict winter conditions," he said. "The additional deer harvest will be tightly controlled."
Monda said no new permit application process or general season opportunities will be created. Instead, additional permits will be drawn from unsuccessful applications for the special hunt drawing last spring. The new permits will go to youth, seniors, hunters with disabilities, and applicants for antlerless hunts in Game Management Units 224, 239, and 242. New permit holders will be notified this month for hunts scheduled in October and November.
Reducing the number of deer this year and next will help the winter range recover and will speed the growth of bitterbrush and other shrubs that represent important food sources for mule deer. Too many deer will stunt recovering shrubs, Monda said.
Monda added that the Washington chapters of the Mule Deer Foundation are contributing funds for post-fire habitat restoration efforts.
"In the long run, fewer deer on the land and our re-vegetation work will help the range recover more quickly and will contribute to a more robust mule deer population," Monda said.
More information on wildfire restoration efforts is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildfires/ .
Meanwhile, restrictions aimed at preventing wildfires on WDFW lands remain in effect, Brown said. In addition to an ongoing ban on fireworks and other incendiary devices, such as tracer rounds or exploding targets, the rules prohibit:
- Fires or campfires, including those in fire rings. However, personal camp stoves and lanterns fueled by propane, liquid petroleum or liquid petroleum gas are allowed.
- Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle.
- Welding and the use of chainsaws.
- Operating a motor vehicle away from developed roads. Parking is permitted at trailheads; within designated parking areas; and in areas without vegetation that are within 10 feet of roadways.