For some, recovery can take decades
Evacuation levels decline during the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek fires, and most evacuated residents can now return home and resume normal lives.
However, animals in affected areas may not have a home to return to.
So far this fire season, the most visible evidence of the danger of wildfires to animals is a small bear cub rescued by a firefighter during the Cedar Creek fire around July 26.
The cub, since identified as a female, was found with second degree burns on the muzzle and face and burns on the paw pads.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) responded after the baby was found, apparently in the northwestern part of the blaze near Mazama. Since then she has been transferred to the PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Lynnwood.
PAWS plans to hold a detailed press conference later this month, but announced the little one is around 7 months old and weighs just 14 pounds.
“PAWS veterinary staff treated her by removing affected tissue, applying ointment to promote healing, placing bandages to protect her wounds and providing pain management,” PAWS announced on social media. Thursday August 5. “She will need frequent vet checks and dressing changes as her wounds heal and will be in PAWS care until she is healed and ready for release next spring.”
While the cases of animals injured by wildfires and their rescue are certainly well publicized and touch the hearts of readers, direct injuries from wildfires are actually much less common than damage to animal populations in Canada. over time by habitat loss, said John Rohrer, chief wildlife biologist for the US Forest Service’s Methow Valley Ranger District.
“In general, forest fires are really variable and the wildlife is really variable,” Rohrer said. “There will be winners and losers.
During a fire, animals in a given area will be injured or killed or will have to move. Rohrer said that an animal killed by a fire itself – direct mortality – is not very common in a fire like Cedar Creek or Cub Creek. Staci Lehman, communications manager for eastern Washington for the WDFW, said she was only aware of one other animal – an elk calf – that died as a result of the blaze.
“There are always exceptions,” Rohrer said. “The Carlton compound fire in 2014 was an exception – we had evidence that he killed deer, cougars, bears, he just grabbed them. Most of the time that doesn’t happen.
Rohrer noted that the Cedar Creek cub is the only injured wild animal rescued that he has heard of from either blaze.
“This little cub probably couldn’t follow his mother or he climbed a tree at the wrong time,” he said.
Once animals have left an area during a fire, some may be able to return quite quickly, while others will have to wait decades for the land to be habitable again in the event of a high severity fire. or moderate.
First, Rohrer said, insects attracted to burnt areas settle there and, in turn, attract predators.
“There are two species of woodpeckers here – the black-backed woodpecker and the northern three-toed woodpecker, and they will move into fire areas almost immediately,” he said. “Basically, they’re following a wave of bugs.”
Over the seasons, herbs and flowering plants return, providing nutritious food for vegetarian species.
“Having brand-new grass and herbaceous plants is good for vegetarians because it’s the new stuff with the most protein,” Rohrer said, speaking specifically of deer. “They don’t get a lot of protein, especially from dry grass or dead grass or shrubs, shrubs with stems, but new growth is where there is protein so they can. really grow and get fat. “
Bears and ground-nesting birds also feed on wildflowers, grasses and other plants that recover in the first two years after a fire.
Next are the shrubs, and in a few years they will be mature enough to produce berries, bringing in more animals, including omnivores like bears and raccoons, some species of birds, and even foxes and martens.
Willow and aspen are making a strong comeback in more riparian areas and growing rapidly.
“Moose really likes it,” Rohrer said. “One particular species that I think we have more now than 20 years ago is moose, because of all the big forest fires we’ve had in the last 20 years and all the willow that is there. … Thirty years ago, it was almost unheard of for anyone to say they had seen a moose. They are not common but they are much more abundant than before.
Once lodgepole pines have established themselves and grown to over 6 feet, perhaps 20 years after a serious fire, snowshoe hares tend to become more abundant. And since insects attracted to scorched lands bring woodpeckers, the hare brings another type of predator: the Canada lynx.
The area burned by the tripod fire in 2006 is just getting to the point where it will provide good habitat for snowshoe hare, Rohrer said.
“In five or six years there will be a lot of snowshoe hares in the tripod area and the lynxes will react to that,” he said. “So it’s a bit negative for the lynx to see areas of Tripod rebur right now.
Start from nothing
A number of the Cub Creek and Cedar Creek fire areas are burning in the scars of past forest fires, devouring dead trees as well as grass, wildflowers and shrubs that many species of Methow depend on.
While Rohrer hopes more habitat will open up for the Canada lynx – federally listed as an endangered species – repeated wildfires that return land to early stages of renewal put its recovery at risk.
“In the last 20 years, probably half… of the lynx habitat here has burned down, so it’s not in suitable condition for the lynx or the snowshoe hare right now,” Rohrer said. “So if that keeps happening, we’re going to get to the point where we don’t have enough habitat to have lynxes here.”
Other animals are also struggling with repeated forest fires.
Between the fires at the Carlton and Okanogan complexes, approximately 50% of the deer species’ wintering grounds were burned.
“Our deer herds still haven’t fully recovered from this, and the bitter brush just doesn’t come back to the wintering grounds after being burned, at least not in abundance,” Rohrer said.
The final step in habitat restoration in the forests of Methow Valley is to have a dense coniferous forest with thick undergrowth – ideal habitat for species like northern spotted owls or goshawks, squirrels. and pine martens.
But repeated fires have delayed their recovery by decades.
“They need this dense cover of conifers, this canopy of conifers for their nesting and feeding,” he said. “So when we have a high intensity fire… it will take 80 or 90 years before the habitat is back in a suitable condition for them. “
WDFW may reintroduce endangered species, but not in response to a specific fire.
“We’re trying to let nature take its course to a certain extent,” Lehman said.
When fires burn a habitat, people can see deer, bears and other wildlife foraging closer to populated areas, but it does more harm than good to take food out, Rohrer and Lehman said. .
“It never goes well,” Rohrer said. “This makes them more dependent or less suspicious of humans and colonies. “
Feeding wild animals creates bad habits that can be passed from mother to baby. Feeding deer and other prey can also attract predators who can also become aggressive, Lehman said.
“People are so kindhearted that they want to help,” she said. They feed them, that keeps the animals there, so if they don’t feed them, they’re going to go away and find a better habitat.
Change the landscape
When Rohrer began working for the Forest Service in the Methow Valley in 1991, this dense coniferous forest habitat made up much of the land in the district. It was good for species that need this type of habitat, but lacked diversity, he said.
“Now it’s not like that anymore,” he said. “It’s not because of what we did, it’s just because of wildfire.”
On the one hand, more habitat diversity is good, he said, but it’s happening too fast.
Thirty years ago, the Forest Service witnessed fires of several thousand hectares, which at the time seemed huge. Then over the past 15 years, fires have regularly burned tens or hundreds of thousands of acres. The tripod fire, some of which burned again this year, burned 175,000 acres.
“There are all these early successional forest fire areas recovering from forest fires so now instead of … that big, monotonous, million acres of dense coniferous forest, it’s all chopped up now,” he said. he declared. “Which is in some ways better for some species, but 175,000 acres is a lot of land to change all at once.”