Fire’s impact on wildlife uncertain |

Fire’s impact on wildlife uncertain

The intense heat and all-consuming blaze of the 14,000 acre Martis Fire has reduced forest land to ash and smoke over its three-day reign through pristine wilderness land east of Truckee. Despite the rapid growth and sweep of the fire, minimal damage has occurred to man-made structures. Yet Mother Nature’s work is facing a much graver situation.

“In some areas fire can be beneficial to the forests and wildlife, while in others it can generate great concern,” said Banky Curtis of the California Department of Fish and Game.

“Burning bitter brush and sagebrush in the Mt. Rose Wilderness will eliminate grazing ranges and shelter for deer, resulting in more deer on the road later in the season.”

The Department of Fish and Game assigned a biologist to the Truckee fire station Sunday to advise crews of wildlife considerations as they battle the slowing Martis Fire. Over the three days of fighting, hand crews and bulldozers have constructed 15.8 miles of fire line to provide ease of access into the fire area while diffusing the rate of growth.

Firefighters have aligned manual and bulldozer digging with habitat considerations, working to preserve homes for wildlife to return to once the fire is contained.

“Some of the less mobile species will be lost in the fire because of the speed with which it spread, but many of the animals will have safely escaped to another area, waiting to return once the smoke has cleared,” said Curtis.

Smoke inhalation is a concern for all wildlife, though birds and larger animals will often seek shelter out of immediate danger.

Certain regions of forest land will actually benefit from the fire as the blaze will clear out undergrowth and give birth to nutrient rich regrowth following the fire.

Other forest areas and wildlife species may suffer greatly from erosion, in particular river beds where water quality and the fish population will bear the scars of the blaze long after the ashes cease to smolder.

“Spawning areas along the Truckee River may become covered by sediment, effectively killing off much of the new life. We will also have to work quickly to prevent extensive erosion into the water supply to give the fish a chance to survive,” said Curtis.

Fish and game advocates will join forces with the U.S. Forest Service in the rehabilitation efforts as soon as the forest is cleared for access.

“We want to get the ecosystem functioning as soon as we can and as best as we can,” Curtis asserted.

With already drought-like conditions drawing starving wildlife down into communities, Curtis warns that human/bear contact may increase substantially this summer as a result of the Martis Fire.

Local animal control centers such as the Wildlife Shelter in Tahoma and the Truckee-Donner Horseman are spearheading efforts to shelter displaced wildlife from the Martis Fire. At this time, no animals have been admitted into either facility.

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