Mule deer numbers good, but may be hard to reach

Runoff from lands burned the past couple of years has damaged a number of important access roads.

By Wayne Kruse

For The Herald

Deer hunters planning to head for Okanogan County and its blue-ribbon mule deer herds this season may have to do a little more research than usual. Not because of a scarcity of animals; the deer are doing fine.

But the roads? Not so much.

Wildfires have treated the Okanogan a little more gently this summer, but runoff from lands burned the past couple of years has damaged a number of important roads accessing some of the better deer habitat. Even Highway 20 over Loup Loup Pass took a hit, but remained passable and is expected to be fully open by hunting season.

According to information supplied by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin, Okanogan County has the largest migratory mule deer herd in the state. It also has significant numbers of white-tails, particularly in Game Management Units 204 (Okanogan East) and 215 (Sinlahekin). Unit 204 holds a mix of about half white-tails and half mulies, according to Fitkin.

Heavier than average fawn mortality last winter was balanced by better postseason buck escapement (resulting in a buck-doe ratio of 20/100 compared to 16/100 in 2016), and biologists look for a general season similar to last year. GMUs 204, 233 (Pogue) and 239 (Chilliwist) took major fire damage in 2014-15, but high-quality summer range and greater than normal fall green-up helped minimize damage to herds.

Except for GMU 209 (Wannacut), the driest unit in the county and with the most private land, all parts of the Okanogan hold significant numbers of deer and provide good to excellent hunting. Mule deer populations are highest in the Methow Valley and along the divide between the Methow and Okanogan watersheds.

General season hunters in 2016 took 2,700 animals (2,500 bucks), down from the banner harvest of 2015, but 14 percent above the 10-year average. Success rates last year in the Okanogan were 20 percent for modern firearm hunters, 28 percent for muzzle-loaders, 26 percent for archers, and 30 percent for multi-season hunters. GMU 204 recorded the highest harvest, at 739 animals, and the western portion of the county, GMUs 215, 218 (Chewuch), and 224 (Perrygin) combined for 31 percent of the harvest, at 870 animals.

Biologists will staff a game check and information station on both of the general rifle season weekends at the Red Barn in Winthrop. Fitkin says WDFW can use your info, whether you were successful or not.

When researching access, start with the major event, the Diamond Creek Fire, north of Mazama, in GMU 203 (Pasayten) and possibly 218 in the Pasayten Wilderness and Eightmile drainage. Check for fire activity, access closures and campfire restrictions, with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Methow Valley Ranger District; DNR Regulated Fire Restrictions; InciWeb current fire status; and Okanogan County Emergency Management.

At last check, all or parts of the following roads were closed due to fire or runoff damage: Eightmile Creek Road, Ortell Road, Sweetgrass Butte Road, and Falls Creek Road. Also damage to the southern one-third of GMU 242 (Alta) and the upper Beaver Creek watershed.

Biologists say greening of major burns over the past two or three years are good bets now for deer hunters, and that a drier than usual summer may have migratory animals starting down toward winter range early, maybe by the tail end of the general season.

A few suggestions for late mule deer permit holders: GMU 215, Toats Coulee, Sinlahekin Wildlfe Area; Cecil, Sarsapkin and Sinlahekin creeks. GMU 218, Rendezvous Unit of Methow Wildlife Area; Cub Creek, Buck Lake and lower Boulder Creek. GMU 224, southern portion of unit, including Pearrygin, Ramsay, Bear, Blue Buck, Beaver and Frazier creeks. GMU 231, Big Buck, Virginia Ridge, Thompson Ridge, and Little Bridge Creek areas.

No more pinks

The state closed the Snohomish River system, including the Skykomish and Snoqualmie, to pink salmon retention over the weekend. Salmon managers cited an in-season run-size assessment showing a pink return too small to fill the spawning escapement goal. The three rivers are still open to other salmon species, with a daily limit of three coho, but the Wallace remains closed to all fishing.

The Bob Heirman Memorial Coho Derby, scheduled for Oct. 7 on the Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie, will not be affected by the closure. It will proceed as planned, according to organizer Mark Spada, with tickets available at Ted’s Sport Center, Three Rivers Marine and Tackle, Greg’s Custom Rods, Triangle Bait & Tackle, and John’s Sporting Goods, at $25 a copy. The event offers $2,000 for first place, $1,000 for second, and $500 for third.

Move the goats

Public comments will be accepted until Oct. 10 on the draft environmental impact statement on the management plan for mountain goats in Olympic National Park. The draft EIS is available for review and comment at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/OLYMgoat. The plan would allow the park to reduce or eliminate environmental impacts from non-native mountain goats and to reduce potential public safety issues associated with the goats’ presence in the park.

Among other actions, the plan would allow WDFW to move goats to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee national forests.

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