Hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers and other outdoor recreationists will undoubtedly have questions about what impact the fires will have on wildlife, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreational opportunities in those areas. The information below will help answer some of your questions.
- It is important to note that habitats in these areas and their associated wildlife populations evolved with fire, although those fires were typically smaller and more localized. The forest habitats located within the fire areas are home to a diversity of species.
- Each of these wildlife species has its own set of survival techniques. Larger, more mobile animals will simply move out of the path of a fire; birds will obviously fly away; and many smaller mammals and reptiles will burrow underground or seek shelter in rock dens. Research has shown that burrowing even six inches will protect animals from fires reaching up to 3,000 degrees above ground.
- It’s impossible to determine how many animals will survive the fires and how many have been lost. But records of past fires show that wildlife mortality is substantially lower than one might imagine.
- As soon as it appropriate and in full cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the Arizona Game and Fish Department will be using the tools at our disposal to assess the fires’ impacts to wildlife, as well as any immediate actions that can be taken to assist surviving animals.
- The Game Management Units affected by the Wallow Fire on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are Units 1 and 27. Popular hunts in these units include elk, antelope, deer, turkey and bear.
- The Game Management Units affected by the Horseshoe Two Fire on the Coronado National Forest are primarily Unit 29 and portions of Unit 30A. Popular hunts in these areas include mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina, and small game.
- The Game Management Units affected by the Murphy Fire on the Coronado National Forest are Units 36A, 36B and 36C. Popular hunts in these areas include mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina and small game.
- Many hunters might immediately come to the conclusion that their hunts in the fire areas are now ruined due to the fires, out of the perceptions that there will be reduced numbers of game, limited or no access, that the forest is completely burned, or that the overall hunting experience is compromised. Although some hunts will undoubtedly be affected, they might not necessarily be as severe as perceived. Here is what we found in Game Management Unit 3C in the aftermath of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002:
- Of the Unit 3C habitat on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests impacted by the fire, 28 percent was determined to be severely burned, 19 percent moderately burned, 26 percent low impact, and 27 percent was unburned.
- There was no significant reduction in the availability of big game animals in the fall hunts.
- After the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Game and Fish personnel conducted two aerial surveys and several ground surveys in the unit. There was no evidence of any large migration of elk or deer out of the burn area. With the onset of the monsoon, it is anticipated that a significant portion of Units 1 and 27 will have adequate forage, and that elk will be well distributed prior to the hunts.
- The elk/antelope draw was held in the spring and permits have been issued. The department has received some questions about whether there is a contingency for refunds on a hunt permit or for a hunter to turn down the permit to retain his or her bonus points. There is currently no provision in state law or commission rule for refunds on a permit, or for a hunter to turn down the permit to retain his or her bonus points. As is stated on page 16 of the 2011-12 Arizona Hunting Regulations booklet:
The issuance of any big game permit has no express or implied guarantee or warranty of hunter success. Any person holding a valid permit assumes the risk that circumstances beyond the control of Arizona Game and Fish may prevent the permit holder from using the permit. In such situations, Arizona Game and Fish disclaims any responsibility to reissue or replace a permit, to reinstate bonus points or to refund any fees.
The department and commission may analyze this situation further once the fires are under control and it is possible to truly assess the fire’s actual impacts.
Hunters who have not yet applied for the fall hunts for deer, turkey, javelina, bighorn sheep, buffalo and pheasant will want to consider the different variables if applying for hunts in the affected fire areas. Until the fires are put out, there is no certainty what the conditions will be, but they could range from area closures to near-normal hunting conditions come hunting season.
- Access to popular fishing waters in the White Mountains, including Big Lake, Carnero Lake, Crescent Lake, the Greer Lakes, Hulsey Lake, Lee Valley Reservoir, Luna Lake, Nelson Reservoir, the Black River, the East and West Forks of the Black River, Sheep’s Crossing, and the Little Colorado River at Greer, will be closed until the Wallow Fire is secured, and the Forest Service clears standing burned trees adjacent to roadways and determines there are minimal public safety concerns. After the fire is contained, the department expects access to Carnero Lake, the Greer Lakes, Luna Lake, and Nelson Reservoir will soon be opened. However, expect these closures to be in effect for the remaining waters for the majority of the summer and into this fall.
- In the Coronado National Forest (currently closed) in southern Arizona, the following lakes are closed to anglers and boaters:
- Arivaca Lake off Ruby Road in the Nogales Ranger District,
- Frye Mesa Reservoir and Riggs Flat Lake in the Pinaleno Mountains west of Safford,
- Parker Canyon Lake southeast of Sonoita,
- Pena Blanca Lake in the Pajarito Mountains west of Nogales,
- Rose Canyon Lake in the Santa Catalina Mountains.
- Fisheries resources are normally able to survive the immediate conditions of a wildfire, including flames, heat and smoke. However, fish and their habitat are very susceptible to intense flooding, increased erosion, and slurries of ash that can follow a wildfire during significant precipitation events.
- Ash slurries can be toxic to some fish. The increase in nutrients may lead to late summer algae blooms that may trigger “summer kill” conditions, high pH and low dissolved oxygen.
- During the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, significant flooding carried ash and debris from Canyon Creek, and Corrizo and Cibeque Creeks on the Reservation, through the upper Salt River and into Roosevelt Lake. Nutrient levels increased in Roosevelt Lake two to three levels of magnitude; however, there were no threats to that fishery. Conditions will be monitored closely, but Roosevelt Lake is not expected to be severely impacted since it is such a large lake.
- As soon as is safely possible, fisheries personnel will survey each of the waters impacted by the wildfires to assess immediate and potential future impacts to the sport fish and threatened and endangered (T&E) fisheries resources. Some actions in the near future may include retrieval and temporary transfer of T&E populations into refugia ponds.
Injured or Orphaned Wildlife
- One problem that arises with displaced wildlife, especially larger mammals, is that population densities increase in areas adjacent to the fire. This results in increased competition for available food and water, often sending animals into communities and subdivisions, and into conflict with people.
- Officials request that people simply do not feed displaced wildlife. There are many more negative consequences than positive when it comes to feeding animals, including potential aggression towards humans, disruption of their natural digestive systems, and artificially “holding” them in a specific area when they would normally seek an area with better habitat conditions.
- Do not pick up, capture, or attempt to rescue “orphaned” young wildlife. Adult wildlife with young have developed behavioral responses whereby they may hide young in an effort to elude perceived predators, and the wildlife you believe to have been abandoned are often simply awaiting the return of their mother after you leave the area. Young animals that are turned into the department or rehabilitators are often unable to be returned to the wild and may have to be euthanized. It is far better that they are left in the wild unmolested.
- The department has established a mobile Wildlife Emergency Treatment Center to tend to injured wildlife resulting from the Wallow Fire. The Center is located at the Eagar Rodeo Grounds at 7 S. Highway 180 in Eagar, Ariz. The public may either drop off wildlife at the Eagar Rodeo Grounds or Game and Fish can pick up injured wildlife that are reported through a hotline that has been established. The wildlife emergency hotline number is (623) 236-7242. Please note that the Center cannot accommodate domestic animals or livestock. For more information, click here.
Bald Eagle Update
The Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program contractor at the Luna Lake breeding area has been able to verify that the adults and at least one fledgling eagle survived the Wallow Fire. We still don’t know about the Crescent Lake breeding area, as those nestlings were too young to fly when the fire started.
Status of Mexican Wolf Packs in Wallow Fire Area
Four Mexican wolf packs – the Bluestem, Hawks Nest, Rim and Paradise Packs – occupy territories in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests of eastern Arizona.
In late April and early May, each pack demonstrated denning behavior by localizing their movements to a smaller area. Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project field biologists have conducted ground surveys in the suspected den areas during recent weeks. They found the Bluestem Pack had produced a minimum of three pups, while the Hawks Nest and Paradise Packs each had a minimum of five pups. They have not yet had an opportunity to determine the number of Rim Pack pups.
As of June 13, the Wallow Fire had burned through the den areas of the Bluestem, Hawks Nest and Rim Packs. The burn intensity was of a mixed regime when it went through each of these three den areas. The fire perimeter was still approximately five miles from reaching the Paradise Pack den site.
As part of the wolf project’s monitoring activities, biologists fly weekly telemetry flights throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area located in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. One or more animals associated with each pack currently wear a radio telemetry collar.
On the June 8 and June 13 flights, the VHF signals received from these collars showed that the collared adults and yearlings were still in the immediate areas of each of the den sites impacted by the wildfire. As a result, biologists are cautiously optimistic that one or more pups from the three dens survived; however, they won’t be able to make a final determination until safe conditions allow them to reenter the fire zone and make visual observations. That likely will be several more days or even weeks in the future.
As of June 13, there have been no documented wolf mortalities associated with the Wallow Fire.
Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area
Many of our constituents have been asking about the status of the Sipe Wildlife Area, which is located in the area affected by the Wallow Fire. On Monday evening, June 6, the fire burned into Sipe from the south. Department personnel had worked all day Monday to soak the buildings and surrounding grounds to deter structure loss. Once the fire hit the grassland flats, it laid down and went around the buildings to the east about 100 yards out. The meadows and mesas to the south, east and north were pretty well hit. None of the main structures were lost; however, the fire did consume the historic Nelson homestead cabin built in the late 1800s on the south end of the property.
Plenty of wildlife rode the Monday evening fire out at Sipe, including elk, pronghorn and numerous birds. On Tuesday morning, there were several ducks on the entrance pond with young-of-the-year. A hummingbird nest with mom and two babies survived the 50-plus mph winds on Monday evening. There were numerous hummingbirds flying and songbirds calling, and a red-tailed hawk was observed trying to catch a rabbit.
Source U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
For additional information, navigate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website at this link –https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/CEBRWRA.shtml.