Below is a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.
The Starkey Experimental Forest and Range opened to public entry today, once again allowing dispersed recreational activities, including camping and hunting. Normally open to public entry and activities from May 1 to November 15, the area had remained closed this year in response to the threat posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The 25,000-acre Starkey Experimental Forest and Range is located 28 miles southwest of La Grande on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Formally designated for research in 1940, the area is jointly managed by the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Wallowa-Whitman and is a research site for collaborative studies of deer, elk, and cattle and their interactions with public land uses.
The Forest Service partners with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct wildlife management at Starkey, which includes hunting.
“Opening to the public will allow traditional public uses of Starkey and will meet our research objectives for hunting,” said Hans Hayden, Starkey Area Manager. “However, strict protocols will be followed to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”
Those protocols include hunter self-service check-in and check-out for each hunt, with instructions for each hunt provided at the hunter check station at the main gate just off of Highway 244. Self-service check-in and check-out will minimize frequent, close interaction with limited research staff, while providing hunters with the instructions and materials they need for their hunts to be conducted safely and in a way that meets research objectives.
Visitors to Starkey must follow Oregon’s state orders for phase 1 reopening. At Starkey, all interactions with the public will be outdoors and at distances of at least six feet. Masks and hand sanitizer will be available at the hunter check station, and all Starkey staff will wear masks when interacting with others. Additional details will be provided with hunter check-in materials at the check station.
Starkey’s opening aligns with public uses of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for dispersed recreation and developed recreation sites and is in compliance with the state’s orders for phased reopening. A developed recreation site is a site that has been improved for recreation, including campgrounds, trailhead facilities, picnic areas, rental cabins, Sno-Parks, and boat ramps.
Protecting community health and safety is everyone’s first priority, and these actions will reduce COVID-19 risks to forest visitors, employees, volunteers, and contractors.
La Grande District Ranger Bill Gamble offered the following reminder to forest visitors: “Fire danger is high across the national forest, and tinder-dry conditions are prime for human-caused forest fires. We ask that you be extremely careful when out in the forest and understand your responsibilities under the current phase B public use restrictions.”
(Photo source: U.S. Forest Service)