Wildfires have burned tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes in north central Washington. Those fires also have damaged thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, including lands managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The agency anticipates the fires will have short and long-term effects on wildlife populations and the landscape.
The Carlton Complex fire has scorched five of WDFW’s wildlife area units, encompassing 25,000 acres of land. The wildlife units include Indian Dan and Pateros (both near the town of Pateros), Texas Creek (south of Carlton), Chiliwist (northwest of Malott) and Methow (near Winthrop).
As of early August, the fire was still burning at or near some of the units. WDFW has sustained millions of dollars in damage to fencing and structures at the wildlife areas. The agency is assessing wildlife and habitat conditions as well as road access at each unit.
Updates on habitat conditions at each of the affected wildlife units will be posted in the wildlife program’s weekly reports.
Contact each wildlife area for the latest information.
The area affected by the Carlton Complex fire provides habitat to both a year-round population of mule deer as well as a migratory herd that lives there in the winter. Altogether, about 10,000 mule deer use the affected area for winter habitat.
Some of the scorched areas may still provide winter habitat depending on weather throughout the summer and fall. WDFW will have a better understanding of winter habitat conditions by Nov. 1. Check for updates in the weekly wildlife reports. Even if conditions are ideal, however, there will be too many deer for the area to support this winter and for several years to come.
Mule deer are moving out of the burned area and into orchards and farmland to seek food and cover. WDFW anticipates more problems could arise as migratory deer return to the area. The department is taking steps to minimize conflicts this fall and winter. WDFW is helping landowners replace a limited number of fire-damaged fences and apply for state and federal emergency assistance. Local landowners who have problems with deer on their lands should contact Ellen Heilhecker, WDFW’s wildlife conflict specialist for the region, at Ellen.Heilhecker@dfw.wa.gov.
WDFW generally tries to avoid the supplemental feeding of deer. However, the department will consider doing so in extreme circumstances such as drought or fire or to draw deer away from agricultural lands. This winter, WDFW likely will provide feed for mule deer in the burned area as a stop-gap measure until the deer population is back in balance with its habitat.
Supplemental feeding has several drawbacks. It concentrates animals, making them more vulnerable to predators, poaching and diseases such as hair slip, which already is a concern for deer in the region. Concentrated animals also can damage nearby private property, such as fences and shrubbery, and can hinder restoration efforts on public lands.
Feeding stations can create intense competition. As a result, a large number of fawns have died in past winter feeding efforts.
Deer learn where food is available from experience. After emergency feeding ceases, deer will come back and concentrate in areas they previously had been fed.
Public safety also can be an issue. Feeding can draw animals into areas near roads, leading to collisions with vehicles.
Emergency feeding and habitat restoration programs are expensive and WDFW is accepting donations for this effort. Checks can be mailed to the Deer Winter Feeding Fund, WDFW, 600 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, WA 98504.
WDFW will likely increase the number of antlerless deer permits this fall and winter, starting with youth and senior hunters and hunters with disabilities. The department will directly contact hunters who already have applied for deer permits in the area, so a new application process is unnecessary.
The agency could close roads in some wildlife units due to hazard trees and washouts. That could reduce access for hunting in the area this fall. Contact each wildlife area for the latest information on access.
WDFW expects to close the pheasant release site at the Chiliwist wildlife area unit and is looking for other areas to release those birds. Updates will be posted on this website.
A few permit-holders were using WDFW lands in the affected area for livestock grazing. WDFW has located alternate wildlife units in Okanogan County with suitable forage for emergency livestock grazing. This grazing will be offered to department permit-holders first and then to others if enough land is available. For more information, contact Dale Swedberg, WDFW’s Okanogan lands operations manager, at (509) 826-7205 or Dale.Swedberg@dfw.wa.gov.
The agency will work with other government agencies on restoration activities such as timber salvage and weed control. WDFW plans to re-seed bitterbrush on department lands within the burned area. However, it could take many years for shrubs and bitterbrush to re-establish in the damaged area.
Likewise, western gray squirrel habitat could take several years to recover. In some areas, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir tree stands sustained significant damage.