Wildfire Could Help or Hinder State’s Wildlife

Photo by Brent Stettler, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 12-6-08

(KCPW News) Count the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources among the government agencies keeping a close eye on wildfires burning across the state.  State Big Game Coordinator Anis Aoude says most animals are able to escape a wildfire, but the effects will be felt long term, especially if a species’ winter range is burned.

“So basically it takes out some of the shrub species that are relatively long lived, so it takes ten, fifteen, twenty years to grow a big sagebrush or bitter brush plant.  So if those are removed, those animals wintering in that area won’t have anything to eat for fifteen or twenty years.  So that’s almost ten generations of mule deer,” says Aoude.

However, wildfires aren’t all bad for wildlife.  Aoude says it may be good for animals if their summer range burns because the re-growth in charred areas can be beneficial.

“So you get the forbes, these are the flowering plants, and then a lot of times you get aspen regeneration, the new aspen coming up is usually more nutritious.    You also get areas where they were dominated by evergreens or conifers reverting back to either a forb or an aspen dominated landscape, which is more beneficial for deer and elk,” says Aoude.

Aoude says the DWR has not yet examined the areas of the state affected by wildfire, so it’s too soon to tell what the effects will be on wildlife.  Currently there are seven wildfires burning in Utah.