This week’s winter closure of the Sage Hills Trails on Friday, Dec. 1, is coming none too soon to provide shelter and browse for the mule deer moving down into the Wenatchee foothills as winter sets in.
Chelan County PUD, the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT) and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coordinate the winter area closure to protect wintering mule deer and other wildlife. The seasonal closure, which includes the habitat stretching across the Sage Hills, is monitored and enforced.
Von Pope, PUD wildlife program manager, said the number of deer seen in the Sage Hills is up slightly for this time of year.
“We already are seeing mule deer seeking cover and forage following the early-season snowstorms,” said Pope. “The refuge provided by the trail closure is vital to their ability to survive the winter.”
Wildlife will find more sagebrush and shrubs to sustain them this winter, the benefit of two planting projects this year. A grant from the Mule Deer Foundation provided 1,000 shrubs favored for browsing and planted by community and student volunteers. An agreement with the state Bureau of Land Management provided another 5,060 sagebrush plants to replace shrubs lost to recent fires.
The annual area closure protects habitat for wintering mule deer and other wildlife and affects all lands owned by Chelan PUD and CDLT that are located between Number 1 Canyon and Horse Lake Road, including the Horse Lake Reserve.
The PUD owns about 960 acres in the heart of the Sage Hills and manages the area as a wildlife preserve as required by its federal license to operate Rock Island Dam. The CDLT supports the area closure by closing public access to the Sage Hills Trail system at area trailheads.
Plans are to reopen the Sage Hills Trails to hikers and bicyclists on or close to April 1, 2018, if habitat conditions allow.
Following Friday’s closure and until the Sage Hills Trails reopen, hikers and mountain bikers are encouraged to use the Apple Capital Loop Trail, Saddle Rock, Dry Gulch (main road only), Lower Castle Rock and the Jacobson Preserve trails. A trail map showing alternative routes is posted on the CDLT website.
For more information contact Von Pope, Chelan PUD Wildlife Program manager, at (509) 661- 4625, or firstname.lastname@example.org; CDLT Trails and Stewardship Coordinator Hanne Beener, (509) 667-9708, or email@example.com; or the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Wenatchee District Office, at (509) 662-0452.