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Wildfires damaged mule deer habitat

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A mule deer makes its way through the burned out forests beside Chiliwist Road west of Malott on Wednesday. Wildlife officials worry about the extent that wildfires have damaged deer habitat.

METHOW VALLEY — Most of the 250,000 acres burned in Methow Valley wildfires are prime winter habitat for mule deer.

This worries wildlife officials but hasn’t put them in a panic. How badly damaged the terrain is depends on how fast and how hot the fire burned, said Matt Monda, regional wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Ephrata.

If the fire got extremely hot and destroyed plants, then the mule deer will have trouble finding food this winter, he said. If it moved fast and with less intensity, then most plants are likely to sprout back up in the coming weeks.

We won’t know for a month or so what kind of fires they were,” Monda said. “And we won’t fully understand the true measure of impact until next spring.”

Mule deer health also depends on the severity of the winter, he said.

If there is lots of snow and the deer are really struggling to make a living, we will see more of them in people’s back yards and orchards and in roadways,” he said.

Monda estimated that 80 percent of the mule deer habitat has been affected by the wildfires. Okanogan County is home to the biggest mule deer herd in the state.

The fires may have killed some deer, he said, but most are currently living at much higher elevations where the fires have not reached.

What officials are hoping for now, he said, is “a mild winter and enough green-up in late summer and early fall.”

Reach Dee Riggs at 509-664-7147 or .