When the smoke clears, what in regards to the wildlife? | Outside


If the people of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley want outdoor activities near their home, they have two main destinations – Asotin Creek in Washington and Craig Mountain in Idaho.

Both are state-administered wildlife sanctuaries linked by a mix of public and private property, offering opportunities not only for hunting and wildlife viewing, but also for hiking, biking, shooting, and camping.

This summer both are witnessing major forest fires that are sure to change their appearance and the quality of habitat for the animals they call home. Both have become critical actors in the ecosystem with wildfire, bringing with it both positive and negative effects. Where the balance changes after the smoke has dissipated will likely depend on how each fire spreads and how strong the flames are in different places.

Wildlife managers have not yet had the opportunity to fully evaluate the changes, but did provide initial insights. Bob Dice, manager of the Blue Mountains Wildlife Areas for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the 65,000-acre Lick Creek Fire burning in the Asotin Wildlife Area did some damage when it passed through Charlie Creek, Lick Creek, Asotin’s forks. raced creek and smoothing over iron ridge.

“We lost some trees in some areas where the bushes and vegetation were thicker and it got really hot,” said Dice. “It was a shame to see some of the larger trees set on fire and we lost some areas where we were planting trees.”

The fire also destroyed part of the border fences for the wildlife area as well as some elk fences in the Peola area.

“We don’t know how much we’ve lost,” he said.

He has not heard of any significant loss of wildlife.

“I’ve seen a lot of deer walking around aimlessly. The moose left the straightener. Not sure where you went, but I am sure you will be back. It was a bit tough on mule deer and bighorn sheep. You lost a lot of food. It will come back, but right now it’s kind of tough. “

Frances Cassirer, a bighorn sheep biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game who also works closely with Washington wildlife officials, said the flock of wild sheep on Craig Mountain and Asotin Creek appear to have largely escaped the fire. According to GPS data from collared sheep in the Asotin Creek herd, the animals survived.

“They were right where the fire was burning at Charlie Creek and Bracken Point, and they managed to avoid the fire,” said Cassirer. “But we’re curious about the lambs.”

The lambs are about seven weeks old.

“You are very nimble, but I am worried about inhaling smoke,” she said. “They are just more prone to anything.”

The Redbird herd at Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area, where the three-fire Snake River Complex covered approximately 100,000 acres, also appears to have escaped the fire. Cassier said wildlife technicians saw groups of the herd from the Snake River.

“They weren’t in the fire, they just faced the drought and they seem to be fine so far,” she said.

But the loss of grass could pose a challenge to the animals, especially the lambs.

“You’re still breastfeeding,” she said. “If the ewes do not get enough to eat, they cannot provide their lambs with enough milk, and that would be difficult.”

While Craig Mountain and Asotin Creek and the animals that live there evolved with fire, it arrived unusually early this year. That means autumn rains and the accompanying green of the grasses that follow the flames are still months away.

“We just need some water,” said Cassirer.

When it comes to it, the blue wheatgrass and Idaho fescue that grow on the slopes of both wildlife areas will be major sources of food for sheep, deer, and elk.

“It’s going to rain and it’s going to be green,” said Dice. “I think a lot of our ranges will come back and look really, really good.”