Wildlife & Wildfire
WILDLIFE & WILDFIRES
Repost ODFW 9/11/2020
Oregon’s wildlife evolved with wildfire. And even though fires are intensifying, they are nothing new to Oregon’s wild animals.
An animal’s physiology and life history strategy probably have a lot to do with how they react to oncoming flames. Birds can and will fly away, small animals that burrow underground or in rocks, will use that strategy to escape wildfires. Large animals like deer and elk will run away or seek refuge in rivers or lakes. Like any situation, sick, old and young wildlife are most at risk during a wildfire and may die if they cannot escape the flames and smoke. Due to the fast-moving nature of some of the fires [we're now experiencing], it’s likely that we also lose some otherwise healthy wildlife like deer and bear.
However, the main effect of wildfires on Oregon's wildlife is immediate loss of habitat and a reorganization of animal communities. Species that depend on late seral (mature) forest habitat may experience reduced population levels in the years immediately following a stand replacement fire. Species that depend on or utilize early seral (young) forest habitat often thrive and experience an increase in population following a fire. A young forest is often very productive. The types of wildlife that may benefit from fire include woodpeckers, insectivorous birds, reptiles, deer, elk, and even bears.
Regrowth of vegetation following a fire may begin almost immediately after the flames are extinguished depending on the heat and severity of the fire. Some species will return to burned areas while the area is still smoldering to take advantage of new growth. Wildfires can impact fish and other aquatic organisms by rendering their habitat unlivable in much the same way it does the land. Things like water chemistry, turbidity and runoff levels may cause fish to move away and die-offs are not uncommon. Most wild animals will look for suitable habitat and shelter in the immediate aftermath of a fire. How you can help wildlife impacted by forest fires • You shouldn’t see an increase in wildlife appearing in urban settings. If you do see wounded or injured animals, please call ODFW (503-947-6000). You can also connect with any local wildlife rehabilitation center, such as your local Audubon Society chapter. • Leaving water out is probably not necessary, and it has the potential of attracting multiple animals. Congregating animals isn’t necessarily a good thing for wildlife. If you do leave water out, leave it away from your house, change it often and remove it when it’s no longer necessary. • Do not leave food out or attempt to feed wildlife. • Donate to our Wildlife Habitat Recovery Fund, which supports crucial habitat restoration projects around the state, including restoration of habitat impacted by wildfire.
Image: August 6, 2000 in Montana's Bitterroot National Forest by USDA Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst, John McColgan