Wildlife Grandfathers Knew Fire
Incident: Carpenter 1 Wildfire
We naturally think of escaping a wildfire from our own perspective. But animals use senses of sight, smell, and hearing often far more perceptive than we can imagine. Different species choose to fly away from fire, or run away, waddle away, swim away, slither away or hop away. Some will bury themselves in the dirt until the flames pass.
Before it comes to a race to safety, animals in the wild are almost always aware of a fire growing nearby, because their ancestors were used to more frequent fires. Even in calm winds, small flames give many signals to wildlife, including sounds and smells. So escape from a wildfire is easy for most animals that can travel. The percentage of large animals such as deer and bear that die from wildfires is so low that scientists have a difficult time measuring their numbers. Unburned areas continue to provide their food until fire spots green up after rain.
The most vulnerable animals are very young, old or injured animals, as well as species who nest near the surface of the ground, and may lose that habitat. In the Spring Mountains, the rare Palmer’s chipmunk, for example, dens on top of the soil. Lots of its habitat remains, though, in unburned areas in Fletcher and Lee Canyons.
What is clear to scientists is that many animal and plant species depend upon fire for their survival.
Some important insects find freshly burned trees irresistible for laying their eggs in. The endemic insects of the Spring Mountains will have varying responses to the variety of fire effects in their habitats. Prehistorically, the giant ponderosa pines of Kyle Canyon were used to low-intensity lightning fires burning through every ten or twenty years. Frequent fires clear out the underbrush and thus defend the grandfathers against the next fire. We now attempt to replicate natural fires using either prescribed burning or mechanical removal of extra fuel, so fires stay as moderate as our animals are accustomed to, rather than burn harder.
So do animals need our help escaping from wildfires Not really. But it is up to all of us to take care of our precious public lands, and the amazing creatures that live there.
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