Below is a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.
The Starkey Experimental Forest and Range will remain closed to public entry until further notice to align with the Oregon governor’s Executive Order 20-12 to “Stay Home, Save Lives”(link is external) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
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 between the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station and the national forest. It is the primary field location for collaborative studies on the effects of deer, elk, and cattle on ecosystems.
Starkey is a popular area for gathering shed deer and elk antlers each spring. More than 100 people traditionally camp in a small area at the main gate in anticipation of opening day.
“This year, our field staff is extremely limited, owing to stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are not able to safely accommodate the traditional May 1 opening day,” said Starkey Area Manager Hans Hayden. “The governor’s orders also do not allow large groups of the public to congregate, many of whom travel hundreds of miles to camp together at the Starkey entrance. The current pandemic and associated need to avoid large gatherings, maintain public safety, and maintain safety for those who serve the public are all key considerations in delaying our opening until further notice.”
Starkey’s temporary closure is part of a larger closure order that currently applies to developed recreation sites in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. A developed recreation site is a site which has been improved for recreation, including but not limited to campgrounds, trailhead facilities, picnic areas, rental cabins, Sno-Parks, and boat ramps.
The Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests are jointly taking these measures to encourage compliance with Centers for Disease Control guidance and state orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. The governors of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have called for residents to stay home and avoid any non-essential travel or gatherings. Additionally, these closures will reduce potential pressure on emergency services in rural communities. Those who become lost, injured, or otherwise in need of assistance while recreating in the forest may strain limited search, rescue, and healthcare resources at a time when there are no resources to spare.
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.
(Photo source: U.S. Forest Service)