Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Grazing and fire behavior
We summer cattle in the mountains of Southeastern Idaho, and last week after checking the herd, we took the long way home through Bone and toured the area of the Henry’s Creek Fire. Ouch! The devastation along Willow Creek is hard to grasp. This once dense thicket of willows looks like a bombing range.
Fire is, from time-to-time, a natural occurrence, and there will undoubtedly be some beneficial effects of this fire as time goes on, but it will hardly offset the costs of fire-fighting to the taxpayer (in the millions) and the cost to wildlife through short term habitat destruction, nevermind the cost in private property damage. Worse yet is the nagging fear that this fire will be followed by more to come if drier, hotter summers become the norm. The desert west of us is where they have to worry about devastating range fires … right?
We drove to a vantage point where you can see where the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area abuts private ground. It’s easy to observe the fence line contrast between the total annihilation of plant life caused by dense fuel loads (years of ungrazed grass) on the wildlife management side, and the much-reduced effects of the fire as it entered a landscape that had been grazed and consequently had less fuel. Is this difference significant to the recovery process?
The Wildlife Management Area, originally acquired as mitigation for the Ririe and Teton dams, encompasses some 34,000 acres. It provides vital winter habitat for 8,000 to 10,000 elk, deer and moose. We’ve yet to hear what percentage of the area burned, but we know it was significant.
This wildlife refuge, combined with Conservation Reserve Program lands in the vicinity, meant plenty of ground in the path of the fire was “set aside” from grazing. Did this have an impact on fire behavior? Is it time to consider adding domestic grazers to the management scheme of the Wildlife Management Area?
I’d like those two questions to quietly sit in the minds of wildlife managers.