A big wildfire like the Beaver Creek Fire has a variety of effects on the animals that live there—some die, some escape and some even flourish.
The big-game animals in the Smoky Mountains will probably outrun the Beaver Creek Fire, said Randy Smith, wildlife biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“I don’t suspect that big-game-wise we’ve lost a lot of critters,” he said.
The question, he said, is whether they will be able to survive the winter.
Smith said deer don’t winter much in the Smoky Mountains—they move east and south—but elk do.
“I don’t suspect that
big-game-wise we’ve lost a lot of critters.”
Idaho Department of Fish and Game
“Winter is usually the bottleneck for these big-game animals,” he said. “The concern in these deep-snow areas is browse.” “Browse” is what wildlife biologists call vegetation—food for big game.
Smith said some elk and deer in the area have been fitted with radio transmitters, and once fire-fighting aircraft clear out of the airspace, biologists from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will be able to fly over and monitor the animals.
“We’ll see where the fire has pushed them,” he said.
He said the elk that make it through the first winter could benefit from the fire as it prompts new growth, particularly of aspen stands, which provide shaded areas for grass and forbs.
As aggressive as it seemed, Smith said, the Beaver Creek Fire hasn’t matched the fast-moving intensity of the Elk Complex Fire, which is burning farther west in the Boise National Forest. In that fire, he said, several dozen deer and elk and one bear have been reported killed.
However, Smith said that the Beaver Creek Fire will affect bears by burning up their usual fall foods.
“There will be lots of black bears more inclined to show up in town,” he predicted.
He said that was the case following the Castle Rock Fire in 2007, and one bear has already appeared in Fairfield.
While the large animals can usually outrun a fire, many of the small ones “don’t have a chance,” said Regional Wildlife Biologist Ross Winton
He said ground-burrowing mammals can survive a low-intensity grass-and-sagebrush fire, but often not a hot fire burning in timber. He said that even those that burrow deep enough to escape the heat are often overcome by smoke. Even birds, he said, can die by getting disoriented trying to fly through dense smoke.
However, he said, “There are a lot of animals that home in on and take advantage of the fire.”
He said some wasps and beetles lay their eggs in recently burned stumps.
“You’ll see a huge increase in the insect population, then the birds and some mammals come in,” he said.
He said that even the species that were nearly wiped out will repopulate the area quickly.
“The system has evolved—they’ll file back in once the habitat starts improving,” he said.