All eastern Washington wildlife areas managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be closed at night due to high fire danger starting Friday.
The closures are in response to widespread wildfire risk, drought and overtaxed state and regional firefighting resources and will impact roughly 700,000 acres east of the Cascades.
"For the most part people who use lands overnight are going to be campers," said WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman. "They are going to be doing things like cooking. Parking on dry grass or cooking or using lanterns or things like that."
WDFW announced the closures Tuesday morning after the Washington state Department of Natural Resources indefinitely closed all its public lands east of the Cascades.
Agency officials carefully considered how to respond to the fire danger, Lehman said, knowing that the closures will be unpopular among some, particularly following last year's sweeping public land closures in response to the pandemic.
"We do expect that there will be some people that will be unhappy, and we understand that. We understand that this is the time of year people get away to camp," Lehman said. "We're trying to strike that balance between safety and keeping everyone happy."
WDFW officials will meet with managers from other lands each week to reevaluate the restrictions, she said.
The announcement comes on the heels of recreation access closures to the Methow Wildlife Area in north central Washington announced over the weekend due to the proximity of the Cub Creek 2 Fire. Those closures include the Pearrygin Lake water access site, and the Rendezvous, Early Winters and Methow units of the Methow Wildlife Area.
Previously, WDFW closed several wildlife area units in southeast Washington for public safety due to the Lick Creek (Dry Gulch) Fire in Asotin County. Closed areas include the W.T. Wooten Unit of the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area, the 4-0 Ranch and Grouse Flats units of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area, and the Asotin Creek and Weatherly units of the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area.
The overnight use and Methow and southeast Washington wildlife areas closures will be in effect until further notice. State land managers will meet weekly to assess the possibility for further closures or reopenings. Current closures apply to both motorized and on-foot uses. Water access areas that are not part of a wildlife area will not be limited to day use only unless posted otherwise, according to an agency news release.
An emergency order issued in early July is still in effect and being enforced on department lands east of the Cascades, which prohibits:
* Fires or campfires, including those in fire rings. Personal camp stoves and lanterns fueled by propane, liquid petroleum, or liquid petroleum gas are allowed.
* Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle.
* The discharge of firearms for target-shooting or other purposes by anyone not engaged in lawful hunting.
* Welding and operating chainsaws, including the use of an acetylene torch or other open flame.
* Operating a motor vehicle away from developed roads. Parking is permitted within designated parking areas, including developed campgrounds and trailheads; and in areas without vegetation that are within 10 feet of roadways.
Members of the public engaged in these activities will be ticketed as WDFW enforcement officers will be applying a zero-tolerance approach, according to the release.
In addition to overnight closures and the existing closures in north central and south east Washington, smaller area-specific road or other closures may also be implemented as necessary. The public is asked to check wdfw.wa.gov/wildlifeareas for further details before departing to their intended destination.