Ellensburg, Wash. – Two wildlife areas near Ellensburg, Washington, will be seeing fewer ATVs and jeeps starting today/ (February 1). As correspondent Courtney Flatt reports, the areas close to motor vehicles to protect wintering elk.
There are two large wildlife areas just east of Ellensburg, Wash. And they’re pretty popular recreation spots – from hiking to hunting to ATVs. But Whiskey Dick and parts of Quilomene Wildlife Areas will close to motor vehicles through April 30. Hikers and horseback riders can still travel through the area.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manager Shanna Winegeart says these types of closures are important to protect wintering elk herds.
“Critical wintering, that type of habitat you need to protect. Elk are in their poorest conditions at that point in time, and even a little bit of disturbance can really effect their energy reserves.”
Elk fatten themselves up going in to winter. But by this point in the year, Winegeart says, they’re on a starvation diet. Before the cold winter months, the mating season ends, and the females are now pregnant. That can mean a lot of stress on their bodies.
So when a car or ATV or jeep comes rolling through their habitat, it can really scare them.
“They’ll stop feeding. They’ll look. Their stress level goes up. Sometimes move off – they’ll run up a hill, whatever. Any of those things are using up energy that they need to actually reserve.”
Foot traffic can have the same effect. But Winegeart says the Department has to strike a balance between public recreation and wildlife needs.
There are around 2,000 elk in the Colockum herd. Biologists have put GPS collars on about 50 elk for the past three years. The collars send a signal showing the animal’s location every three hours.
At the end of this season researchers collect data from the collars and combine it with hand counted information. They hope to learn more about where the herd actually goes.