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Wildfire forces closure of Chelan Ridge Hawk Watch in Washington State

The Chelan Complex Fire burns in central Washington. Photo by Ben Brooks (Creative Commons)
The Chelan Complex Fire burns in central Washington. Photo by Ben Brooks (Creative Commons)

Our October 2015 issue has been mailed to subscribers and will hit newsstands next Tuesday, September 1. It includes descriptions of four great hawk watches: Hawk Cliff in Ontario, Franklin Mountain in New York, Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa, and Chelan Ridge in Washington.

The first three will be happy to welcome visitors this fall, but the Chelan Ridge watch site is closed due to the massive Chelan Complex Fire, which started two weeks ago (well after we had sent the October issue to the printer).

The wildfire is one of 29 active fires currently burning in Washington State, according to InciWeb. It has has burned more than 90,000 acres and forced the evacuations of more than 2,000 residents. Statewide, more than 900,000 acres have burned, three firefighters have been killed, and an unknown amount of property has been destroyed.

The Chelan Ridge site was scorched in the blaze, says Joseph Dane of HawkWatch International (HWI), and the U.S. Forest Service has closed access to FS Rd. 8020, which leads to the hawk watch.

Latest fire updates
InciWeb: Chelan Complex Fire.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest – Alerts and Notices.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on Twitter.

Heavy smoke rises from the Chelan Fire. Photo by Ben Brooks (Creative Commons)
Heavy smoke rises from the Chelan Fire. Photo by Ben Brooks (Creative Commons)

For this fall, HWI’s watch site will be at Slate Peak, the highest place in Washington accessible by car. The peak is about two hours north of Chelan Ridge and is open to birders. The HWI field crew at the peak will offer free educational programs to all visitors through October 27.

Slate Peak is a reliable site to monitor migrating birds of prey, Dane says. He expects it to produce about the same amount of hawk-migration data as Chelan Ridge has.

The annual Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration Festival, originally slated to be held September 12 in Pateros, will instead be moved to the North Cascades Basecamp, a lodge and outdoor education center in Mazama, in north-central Washington. For this year, the event will be renamed the Slate Peak Hawk Migration Festival.

The venue change warranted a few adjustments to the schedule. Here’s what’s on tap:

HWI senior scientist Dave Oleyar will offer a free migration and raptor workshop in the basecamp classroom at 7 p.m., Friday, September 11. Field trips on Saturday, September 12, and Sunday, September 13, will take visitors to Slate Peak, where they’ll spend the day hawk watching with the HWI crew. Carpooling will start at 8:45 each morning. Learn more about the festival on the North Central Washington Audubon website.

Festival organizers hope to bring the event back to Pateros in 2016, Dane says, “so this may be your best chance to experience raptor migration in the gorgeous setting of the North Cascades.” — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor

More coverage of 2015 Washington wildfires

NBC News: Photos of Chelan Complex Fire.

Seattle Times: Animated map shows spread of fires.

New York Times video: Chelan Fire forces evacuations.

 

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