Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wallow Fire update: All the other critters, too.

(Image source and MSO factsheet.)

We've mostly focused on the effects of the Wallow Fire on Mexican wolves because, well, these wolves are pretty well screwed six ways from Sunday and, as a result, are the most imperiled mammals in North America. (See wolves and livestock, wolves and jackasses, wolves and politicians, etc.) But, obvs, as much as we like wolves, we're really enamored with the entire ecosystem, from the nondescript sedges to the fantastic pines. Wolves serve as proxy for an intact landscape.

So, sadly, while it appears that Mexican wolves have more or less made it through the Wallow Fire, there's also this:
The flames spared three packs of endangered Mexican gray wolves but likely killed at least some threatened Mexican spotted owls as it roared through more than a half-million acres of a pristine forest on the New Mexico border.

Though some spots were untouched or had only undergrowth burn, the effect of the human-caused Wallow fire will last for decades because it burned so hot in many areas that it completely denuded the landscape, forest specialists said. (Via)
Surviving the fire isn't enough. It's going to be a long road to ecosystem recovery, including sufficient vegetation and prey base for higher-order taxa. It remains to be seen whether the lands still have enough inherent resilience to make a comeback, especially in light of climate disruption, ongoing drought, invasive species, and ongoing demands for extractive uses.
Fish and Wildlife is looking to see if prey for the wolves and owls will return quickly enough to let the animals stay in their regular areas.

The burned forest supports more than a dozen other endangered or threatened species, including snails, frogs and fish. Dozens of other species live in the forest that aren’t rare, including bear, deer, antelope and a herd of elk that, at about 6,000, is among the state’s biggest.
Stay tuned. The fire may be 89 percent contained, but it will be affecting the landscape for decades to come.

BTW, that flame retardant? No one really knows what effect that will have either.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Those who cannot learn from history....

Image source.

Oh brother. On this recent news story from the White Mountain Independent about the Wallow Fire, our eyes got stuck on this little tidbit:
Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team members continue working in the fire area evaluating soil and vegetation impacts from the fire and formulating plans to mitigate future damage. Plans are underway to obtain large quantities of straw and grass seed and to spread it over the most significantly damaged Forest Service lands prior to the monsoon season.
Who wants to bet that grass seed is native species?

Not us.

It kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Really. With non-native species like Lehmann's lovegrass fueling the fires on the Coronado National Forest, non-native cheatgrass having been responsible for the Murphy Complex fire, and non-native buffelgrass being the primary fuel for fires in the Sonoran Desert, one wonders what the hell the agency is thinking. That it will be different this time?

It's depressing that the agencies don't see the tail they keep chasing. What looks like soil stabilization this year looks like cow feed next year and looks like a habitat-destroying nutrient-sucking highly-flammable pest for decades after that.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The stupidest thing we've read all day.

We've been reading lots of media coverage about the Wallow Fire, for obvious reasons. We've been watching the back and forth about the cause of the fire and are frankly glad that the racists haven't reared their ugly heads to offer explanations regarding the Wallow Fire yet. (But god help us if the folks they are investigating aren't White.) And we've been patient, reporting only on the fire impacts to Mexican wolves and refraining from any finger pointing here.

But the kid gloves are coming off right now: Ranchers, shut the hell up already.
An eastern Arizona rancher blames the U.S. Forest Service and environmentalists for the Wallow fire that has burned more than 440,000 acres in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest and White Mountains....

Rancher Gary Khiene said he knows exactly what caused the disastrous fire: "The special interest groups that have stymied and handcuffed our national Forest Service and invaded the national Forest Service with their own personnel to keep them from allowing livestock to be raised on our national forests and the logging the same way."
(Via KTAR.com) This barely literate explanation defies logic. For one, every time we've been over on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, we've been shocked by the levels of livestock grazing- not exactly a cow free zone. [Ed.: Also, if any special interest groups are handcuffing the Forest Service, we'd love to see the photos. That's sure juicy.]

In fact, actual experts had this to say about the fires:
Others, like William Wallace Covington, a forestry expert at Northern Arizona University, countered that the leading factor was the grazing of forest grass for generations. The government’s longstanding practice of quickly extinguishing forest fires was also seen as adding to the thick clusters of highly combustible trees.
Via the NY Times. And, so, maybe, just maybe, enviros aren't to blame, though you can't blame the ranchers for giving it a good old non-college try. Especially in light of the evidence (PDF) that grazing has completely changed the ecology of the southwest pine forests. Wouldn't want anyone looking too closely at that, now would we, Cowboy?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Some good news about wolves and the Wallow Fire

What a relief! This USFWS report on the status of Mexican wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area bears some good news (paraphrased) about the fire impacts in critical denning areas:
As of June 9, 2011 the Wallow Fire has burned over three wolf pack dens:

The fire burned through the Rim Pack den area on Friday June 3rd, and burned with a high intensity in the immediate area of the den. The Rim Pack adults were located in the den area on the 6-8-11 wolf telemetry flight.

The fire moved through the Bluestem Pack den area on Friday June 3rd, and was spotty and burned with a low intensity in the immediate area of the den. Both adults were located in the den area on the 6-8-11 wolf telemetry flight.

The fire moved through the Hawk's Nest Pack area on Saturday, June 4th and was spotty and burned with a low intensity in the immediate area of the den. Ground tracking conducted in the area on June 5th indicated that the adults remained in the area following the fire. Previous efforts documented a minimum of 5 pups with this pack.
The adults hanging out post-fire in the den area likely indicates the pups survived the fire! Hurrah! (See the link for a detailed account and more info about denning packs and the fire trajectory.)

The Wallow Fire rages on, however, so stay tuned. Fire impacts on the prey base for these wolf families is going to also affect their survival.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Fire evacuations in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area

(Bluestem uncollared wolves - Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team)

The Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona is blazing right through the habitat of Mexican wolves. As headlines focus on mandatory evacuations and the necessary abandonment of towns for human safety, we haven't seen one news article that has mentioned the serious threats this fire poses to the most imperiled mammal in North America. (SEE UPDATE, BELOW)

While we've certainly got sympathy for our fellow humans who might lose their houses in this blaze, we can't help but note the enormity of this stochastic event on wolves already teetering on the brink of extinction. Three packs (Rim, Bluestem, and Hawk's Nest) are in harm's way, and any young pups in dens are surely doomed even if the parents make it to safe ground. Given the low numbers of wolves in the wild to begin with, any further losses creates a scary scenario.

We could rant and rave about the land management practices that create this situation, everything from climate alteration to changed fuel availability. But in light of the potential outcomes for Mexican wolves here, we don't much feel like it. Some other day, when the rains come and the smoke clears. Right now, we'll just hope against hope that those dens are deep, the fire leaps the canyons, and the critters and their ancient wisdom know what to do to survive.

UPDATE 6/6: There are now a couple of news stories about the impacts of the Wallow Fire on wolves.
Here and here.
Arizona Game and Fish Department has also issued a statement. Whenever AGFD tells us everything is hunky-dory, we get a sinking feeling in our stomachs.