Amanda Shufelberger: High intensity wildfires devastating to forests, wildlife and people
When I read the title, “Animals like their forests well done” in Christy Sherr’s Other Voices column on April 1, 2015, I was appalled.
I am a wildlife biologist who frequently works in the nearly 100,000 acres of the King Fire.
I was there while the fire was still burning.
I saw the herds of deer that got trapped and burned to death.
I was there right afterward, when I realized that the “lucky animals” were the ones killed in the fire compared to the ones with burnt paws and skin suffering to death.
I was there weeks later when animals were slowly starving to death.
Every level of the food chain was negatively affected. Ground dwelling and tree living mammals all died.
Even birds you would think could fly away or hover over the fire died from the heat.
Spotted owls have died of starvation. It is going to be years until a prey base is re-established in these huge swaths of high intensity burned areas.
Christy Sherr and her boss Chad Hanson show photographs of mottled green and brown trees and claim these are high intensity areas that will survive.
I challenge anyone to go see what is really left in these areas. Look down the Rubicon Canyon and you will see nearly 13 miles of burned trees that look nothing like Hanson’s photographs.
There are no pine needles or even branches on these trees.
These trees are dead, no matter what anyone tells you.
I completely agree that snags and early seral forests are very important.
Bio-diversity is the key to the web of life.
But tens of thousands of acres of pure snag forests is not diverse.
There are other ways to get early seral life stages (logging, thinning forests) other than nuking watersheds and wiping out all wildlife and claiming it is good for them.
The “flowering herbs and shrubs that reappear quickly” according to Sherr, are, again, not in high intensity burned areas.
These areas where all the duff and invertebrates have been burned away has such scorched soil that it will take years before it will be a functioning ecosystem again.
Fire is a great tool, both biologically and historically, to keep the forest dynamic and diverse. But the large scale, high intensity wildfires like the King and Rim, are devastating to the forest, to the wildlife and to the local people.
Some species like the black-backed woodpecker do benefit for a year or two from the beetle infestation but you cannot keep an entire forest of snags for a single species that thrive for a short period then disappear.
That is not a preferred ecosystem.
The conversation should be about how to reduce fuels in different capacities and areas so that this devastation doesn’t keep happening over and over.
Yes, we need openings (early seral) and old growth and brush patches and everything in between but thousands and thousands of acres of snags with a brush understory does not benefit all wildlife.
Keep some snags, re-plant other areas and say a prayer for all the animals who suffered and died, but don’t say that “animals like their forests well done,” it’s naive, disgusting and erroneous.
Amanda Shufelberger is a wildlife biologist who has worked in the Sierra Nevada for the last 12 years for the U.S. Forest Service and Sierra Pacific Industries. She lives in Grass Valley.
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