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Fire Sends Wildlife 'House' Hunting

 


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 11, 2008


Contacts:

Bonnie Strawser, 252-473-1131 ext 230 (most mornings), 252-943-3173 (in Ponser most afternoons and evenings) or cell 252-423-0815
Jeffrey M. Fleming, 404-679-7287




"What happens when a 35,000-plus-acre fire burns through the places where wildlife lives?"

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers in Columbia and Manteo are being inundated with questions like this one.

The nutshell answer is wildlife populations on Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding area are resourceful and will weather the catastrophe just fine.

Need a little space, man...

Like people, wildlife have basic survival needs. They need air to  breathe, food, water and shelter, such as dens,  nests, hollows, or other areas to produce and rear their young in relative safety -- places that provide escape routes or hiding places from their enemies. Space is important because when they are too crowded, wildlife become stressed and behave differently. They just need places to live their lives.

Home hunting 101

Like any house-hunter, animals look around until they find something  that suits them, and they set up housekeeping. Sometimes, they make surprising choices, but usually are pretty predictable. It's no accident that national wildlife refuges have a lot of wildlife. If  likened to a business, refuge managers could work for Homes-R-Us as they plan very specifically to provide for the needs of a  wide diversity of wildlife species.

It takes a village -- or lots of agencies

Congress has mandated that refuges specifically protect and manage  "Trust Species" which include migratory birds, migratory fish, and any species protected by the Endangered Species Act as well as  all wildlife species found on refuges at any given time.

On national wildlife refuges, non-trust species like black bear, white-tailed deer, 'possums,  snakes, and many other species are the responsibility of the US  Fish and Wildlife Service until they cross the refuge boundary.  In  North Carolina, once off the refuge, these species fall under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. On many levels and in many ways, the Service and the Commission work  together to assure that wildlife in North Carolina are well-managed  and  protected.

So, what happens when their refuge burns?

"It would be unrealistic not to say there will be some animal mortality," said Wendy Stanton, Wildlife Biologist for Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. "However, unlike domestic animals, wildlife in pocosin habitat have adapted in this fire-adapted ecosystem and have developed the instincts to survive. No one likes to see an individual animal suffer, but as biologists we think at the  population level. This fire will benefit the majority of the habitat or homes where these populations of species live.  In fact, as a management tool, we regularly conduct prescribed burns on the refuge.  Not only do these fires produce prime wildlife habitat, they also reduce fuels- making wildfires less intense.
 
"I think we can safely say that most wildlife have been able to escape the blaze. I would guess that the wildlife caught by the fire  have been the ones that have tried to burrow down to escape the heat - since the fire is burning down into the peat soil in many areas. Also some later-nesting birds that have not fledged or learned to fly  would have a harder time escaping. The majority of these populations would bounce back quickly. Almost all the wildlife on 35,000-plus acres have dispersed. They've had to leave their homes."

Stanton said that the displaced wildlife are usually heading toward the thinner smoke (where the air is clearer) and less heat and may behave very much like adolescent wildlife offspring when the parents chase them off from their home range. They wander until they find a  place that suits them, and then they settle in. But, there can be a lot of trial and error in that process. Like human adolescents, they may get a few bumps and bruises along the way.

"As you can imagine, there is tremendous stress associated with  running from a fire, and you get a lot of roaming  wildlife that are not behaving very predictably," said Stanton.  "In  the early stages, they're likely looking for places to hide. But, as  time goes on, they'll be looking for food."

Encounters of the wild kind

Folks should follow the same rules as always when seeing an animal  roaming around or in an unusual place.

  1. Do NOT feed wildlife.  Feeding these animals might seem like the best way to help, but it will produce destructive behavior in wildlife- a situation not safe for wildlife or people.
  2. Do NOT approach them, leave them alone.  Usually, if given a  little time, the animals will move on.  They're looking for food and shelter.  There is still plenty of water in the area in  ditches and canals. If food or shelter is not provided, they will eventually move on.  If there are bears in your yard, stay inside until they leave.
  3. Do NOT leave any outdoor cooking equipment, bags of trash, containers of pet food, etc anywhere that may be accessible to wildlife.
  4. If you encounter a bear, DO NOT RUN.  Slowly wave your arms, make lots of noise and slowly back away from the animal

Remember, these animals are scared and stressed.  Use common sense and be aware of your and your children's surroundings.

Will the animals return to the refuge and other habitat after the  fire is out?

Stanton says that's a likely scenario. "A few months - even a few  weeks- after the fire is out, the refuge will begin to 'green-up' and  provide even better habitat than what existed prior to the fire. The wildlife species we have on this refuge have adapted to a fire-based, even fire-dependent,  environment. This hasn't been the first fire, and it’s likely it won't  be the last fire we have in this area. But, we  hope to  have better water management and more areas safely burned through our prescribed  fire program in  the future."

The NC Wildlife Resources Commission has a WILDLIFE HOTLINE - 1-800-662-7137 where people may ask questions about wildlife issues.  The NC District Biologist for the counties involved in the Evans Road Fire is Chris Turner.  Turner advises to call the WILDLIFE HOTLINE if there are any emergencies or law enforcement-related issues relating to wildlife.  "But, if folks have questions about the wildlife and their behavior, it's fine to call me at 252-221-9961," he added.

For more information about Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, visit http://www.fws.gov/pocosinlakes , or call the refuge office at 252-796-3004.

For more information on the Evans Road Fire, visit http://inciweb.org/state/34  or call the Evans Road Fire Information Center at 252-472-4101


Evans Road Fire -- Fact Sheet -- June 11, 2008

Evans Road Fire -- Fact Sheet -- June 15, 2008

This small black bear was observed attempting to run through a chain-link fence on Friday.  The bear had been frightened by a dog and was simply trying to get away and hide.  It finally squeezed under the fence and hid in a slash pile.   Photo credit- USFWS (taken June 7, 2008)
This small black bear was observed attempting to run through a chain-link fence on Friday.  The bear had been frightened by a dog and was simply trying to get away and hide.  It finally squeezed under the fence and hid in a slash pile.   Photo credit- USFWS (taken June 7, 2008)

Map of burning area.

Map of smoke impact area (click for larger image)

Using irrigation hoses to extinguish groundfire is a daily activity on the Evans Road Fire.  For up-to-date information on the Evans Road Fire, visit http://inciweb.org/state/34  or call the Fire Information Center at 919-472-4101.  Photo credit:  NCFS
Using irrigation hoses to extinguish groundfire is a daily activity on the Evans Road Fire.  For up-to-date information on the Evans Road Fire, visit http://www.inciweb.org/state/34  or call the Fire Information Center at 919-472-4101. Photo credit:  NCFS

A US Forest Service-contracted Heavy Air Tanker has been brought in to assist firefighters on the Evans Road Fire.  This tanker can deliver 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in one drop.  Photo credit:  NCFS- Chris Carlson (taken June 4).
A US Forest Service-contracted Heavy Air Tanker has been brought in to assist firefighters on the Evans Road Fire. This tanker can deliver 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in one drop. Photo credit: NCFS- Chris Carlson (taken June 4)
A US Forest Service-contracted Heavy Air Tanker has been brought in to assist firefighters on the Evans Road Fire. This tanker can deliver 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in one drop. Photo credit: NCFS- Chris Carlson (taken June 4)
A US Forest Service-contracted Heavy Air Tanker has been brought in to assist firefighters on the Evans Road Fire. This tanker can deliver 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in one drop. Photo credit: NCFS- Chris Carlson (taken June 4)
Groundfire continues to burns throughout portions of the Evans Road Fire, creating the characteristic black smoke that has been evidenced far and wide.   Photo credit: Vince Carver, USFWS
Groundfire continues to burns throughout portions of the Evans Road Fire, creating the characteristic black smoke that has been evidenced far and wide. Photo credit: Vince Carver, USFWS
North side of Evans Road Fire, where agricultural fields stopped the forward spread of the fire.  Groundfire remains as the main source of  smoke.  These groundfires will likely burn until there is a tropical storm-type rain in eastern North Carolina.  Photo credit: USFWS, Vince Carver  (photos taken June 13)
North side of Evans Road Fire, where agricultural fields stopped the forward spread of the fire. Groundfire remains as the main source of smoke. These groundfires will likely burn until there is a tropical storm-type rain in eastern North Carolina. Photo credit: USFWS, Vince Carver (photos taken June 13)
Pumping station on north end of Evans Road is using water from Lake Phelps to suppress groundfire.   Photo credit: USFWS, Vince Carver  (photos taken June 13)
Pumping station on north end of Evans Road is using water from Lake Phelps to suppress groundfire. Photo credit: USFWS, Vince Carver (photos taken June 13)
Fire progression map.
Fire Progression Map

 


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