By RALPH BARTHOLDT
As the Sept. 6 general archery season rolls around, paying attention to fire closures will help hunters who are planning trips into the Panhandle’s backcountry.
Fires in north and central Idaho, including the Panhandle and Clearwater regions have created large closure areas that will for the time being curb hunters’ access in some places.
North Idaho’s large fires can be viewed online by clicking on https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/ and zeroing in on Idaho. Fire boundaries and closures could change as the fire season progresses.
“Fire closures often extend far beyond the boundaries of the active fires,” said Roger Phillips of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Even if weather cools and areas are hit with rain or snow showers, closures could continue into October and some closures may continue even when the fires are out, Phillips said.
“However, officials typically try to reopen areas when they are safe,” he said.
Hunters can view places where smaller fires are burning in the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene districts by clicking on http://www.idahofireinfo.com/.
Hunters are being urged to stay away from areas of several big Panhandle fires north of Lake Pend Oreille including the 870-acre Smith Creek fire in the northern Panhandle, which is 5 percent contained, and the 6,600-acre Cougar Fire north of Hope, which is about 26 percent contained.
Fires in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest include the 2,600-acre Surprise Creek Fire, 8 miles east of Lakeview and the 2,200-acre Rampike Fire burning approximately 1 1/2 miles east of Shoshone Creek on a ridge between Clinton Creek and Rampike Creek to the Montana border. Roads and trails within the fire areas of borth burns have been closed.
Hunters should also be aware of safety restrictions on campfires, gas engines, and other potential fire sources such as cigarettes, Phillips said. Backcountry hunters can check with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or other land managers to find out if fire restrictions exist in their hunting areas.
“These restrictions typically limit campfires and other open flames to designated areas, such as campgrounds,” he said.
Hunters have options if their hunt area is affected by fire, although it’s rare that a hunting area is completely blocked for the duration of the hunt, Phillips said. Hunters with controlled hunt tags may exchange them for general season tags before the controlled hunt begins, but controlled hunt fees will not be refunded.
Hunters may also exchange general tags, such as elk tags, to hunt in a different area, but tags must be exchanged before the season begins, and there is a fee to exchange tags, Phillips said.
“Fish and Game will consider requests for rain checks for controlled hunts if access to a hunting unit is completely blocked by fire,” he said.
If rain checks are approved, they would be valid the following year, he said.