The West is experiencing record-breaking fires this year, and that’s affecting recreationists, including hunters.
The Badger Fire, in the Sawtooth National Forest southeast of Twin Falls, burned more than 89,000 acres and is more than 80% contained. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced closures to the forest area, affecting big game hunts for hundreds with tags for deer, elk and pronghorn.
"Over the past decade, we’ve kind of learned to deal with it and adapt and go other places," said Land Tawney, CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a Montana-based outdoors organization that focuses on protecting public lands for hunting and fishing.
“I think that’s one of the great things about public lands, in particular, is that you can pick up camp and go someplace else," Tawney said.
Fires are part of the natural life cycle of certain ecosystems and can improve landscapes and wildlife habitats. But, Tawney said, with climate change and poor forest management, fires behavior is changing, burning in new places and causing more destruction to infrastructure. In some cases, it's keeping hunters out of popular zones for longer. That includes after the burn, when trees can be unstable.
"You have to worry about widowmakers from all the trees that are left," he said, "so sometimes those have been shut down even after the fire is out."
Backcounty Hunters and Anglers supports forest managers' decisions to put public safety first when closing off recreation areas, Tawney said. But, he also said he appreciates when they don't block areas off unnecessarily.
The U.S. Forest Service has instituted closures in the Payette National Forest due to the Woodhead Fire and the Boise National Forest due to the Buck Fire.
Hunters can visit Idaho Fish and Game’s website for information about closures and options to adjust tags.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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