FIRE THREAT: State limits target shooting hours at Wenas Wildlife Area

The state has again restricted target shooting on the Wenas Wildlife Area near Ellensburg. The move, which took effect Monday, was made to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Under a temporary rule by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, target shooting will be limited to between sunrise and 11 a.m. through Sept. 30.

The limited hours have been posted at all entry points and established target shooting sites in the wildlife area.

The department adopted the rule in cooperation with the state Department of Natural Resources, which also owns lands within the 114,150-acre wildlife area.

Similar target-shooting restrictions the past two years have helped to reduce the number of wildfires sparked by bullets on those lands, said Cindi Confer Morris, manager of the wildlife area.

Since 2012, four fires attributed to target shooting burned 37 acres in the wildlife area, she said. By comparison, target shooting caused six fires that burned more than 600 acres in the two years prior to the adoption of summer shooting restrictions.

“All four of the wildfires sparked by target shooting since 2012 occurred in June before the restrictions went into effect,” Confer Morris said in a prepared statement.

“Given that experience, we decided we needed to begin the restrictions earlier, rather than waiting until we started having fires,” Confer said.

The cost of fighting fires, as well as habitat protection, was a primary reason for the restriction.

In the three years prior to adopting the shooting restrictions, the fish and wildlife agency’s fire suppression and restoration costs in the wildlife area averaged $70,000 per year. That is compared with costs of just $7,500 per year since 2012.

Like all of the department’s wildlife areas and water-access sites, the Wenas Wildlife Area also has restrictions on campfires and prohibitions on fireworks and incendiary devices, including tracer rounds and exploding targets, to reduce the risk of wildfire.