Washington's largest mule deer herd threatened by fires

2014-08-11T11:17:00Z 2014-08-11T19:10:53Z Washington's largest mule deer herd threatened by firesBy RICH LANDERS, The Spokesman-Review missoulian.com
August 11, 2014 11:17 am  • 

Washington's largest deer herd will have to be reduced by hunting and winter feeding is planned for the survivors in the aftermath of wildfires torching the Methow Valley.

Wildlife managers and some sportsman's groups already are taking steps to help impacted landowners.

Members of the Columbia Plateau Wildlife Management Association are working with three major landowners in Lincoln and Spokane counties affected by the Watermelon Hill Fire that started near Fishtrap Lake.

The group has been assisting with fence repair and replanting forage and cover, said spokesman Jerry Hickman.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department is focusing on the Methow Valley region, where the Carlton Complex fires - the largest recorded in Washington history - have destroyed about 300 homes and structures and blackened 256,000 acres.

The burned area includes 100,000 acres of winter range that's critical to the local deer and the 10,000 mule deer that will be migrating from the Cascades to the valley in a few months.

The fires, still burning in some areas, have damaged 25,000 acres within five wildlife areas managed by the agency and destroyed about 100 miles of game-proof fencing necessary to keep wintering deer out of orchards and irrigated crops even in normal years.

"A fire of this magnitude will have both short and long-term effects on wildlife populations and the landscape and that will have implications for hunting and grazing in the area," said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director.

Some of the burned areas may still provide winter habitat depending on weather through fall. Some habitats will be improved by the fires.

Even if fall rains cooperate and vegetation resprouts, there likely will be too many deer to support this winter and possibly for several years to come, said Scott Fitkin, state wildlife biologist.

"We know we need to take steps to reduce the size of the herd," Fitkin said. "That effort will focus initially on minimizing conflicts between deer and agricultural landowners."

The agency is working with local property owners to deter deer from moving into orchards, hay fields and pastures to seek food and cover. Federal emergency funding is being sought for fence repair, he said.

The number of antlerless deer permits issued this fall and winter likely will increase, offering opportunities first to youth, seniors and hunters with disabilities, officials say.

The agency plans to contact hunters who've already applied for deer permits in the area, Fitkin said, noting that a deer feeding program also is being considered.

"Winter feeding is not a long term solution," he said. "At best, it's a stop-gap measure until the deer population and habitat are back in balance."

In the winter, deer prefer to browse shrubs and bitterbrush, which the agency plans to re-seed on department lands within the burned area. However, it will take many years for shrubs and bitterbrush to re-establish, he said.

Flooding and erosion also are major concerns for habitat and human safety.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has assembled a Burned Area Emergency Response team to assess the condition of land denuded of trees, grass and other protective cover.

"The team will work with agencies to assist off-forest affected businesses, homes, and landowners in preparing for rain events that cause flooding and musdlides off steep scorched slopes," forest officials said in a media release.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. Service
    Report Abuse
    Service - August 11, 2014 5:15 pm
    The government think they control everything anyway so let's just outlaw wildfires.
  2. Miss Perfect
    Report Abuse
    Miss Perfect - August 11, 2014 11:57 am
    the mule deer are not coming back in "Balance"........see memo.........herds in all of the west are down and down
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on Missoulian.com

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian (Missoulian.com) may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in Missoulian.com's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on missoulian.com.

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick