All involved with or affected by the Anderson Creek fire are humbled by the catastrophic event. There is little to diminish the negative human impacts except for the wonderful exception that there were no human physical casualties. Talking with some Red Hills ranchers may, however, reveal hidden emotional scars with some hints of aftermath akin to post traumatic stress syndrome. Better known are the numerous homes and structures, fences, and livestock losses. However, not much is known of wildlife losses other than some observations by those involved directly with fighting the fire and from landowner accounts after the event. It was impossible to try to do an inventory over such a huge area in order to estimate numbers of wildlife carcasses before scavengers and decomposition took their toll. However, common sense and knowledge of some of the biology and behaviors of animals would imply that generally birds fared better than less mobile animals.
Reappearance of wild turkey, deer, and even bobwhite quail are noted by many ranchers. Time will tell just how much the populations of these animals were impacted. A reasonable assumption is that it may take a couple or more breeding seasons and immigration from surrounding unaffected areas to regain population levels. However, since rangeland will ultimately be much more productive without cedars, bobwhite in particular should thrive to even better levels then pre-fire. It will logically take more time for other wildlife. Most of the scorched eastern redcedars will not be missed. But, it was unfortunate to lose so many of the desirable hardwoods--the big cottonwoods, burr oaks, and walnuts. Insects, the animal base of the food chain, undoubtedly took a beating which means further delays in the comeback of the whole ecosystem. Mid-sized mammals which could not outrun the fire or find refuges from it were probably most impacted of the larger inhabitants. Coons, opossums, porcupines, squirrels and other critters which would normally find refuge in trees were out of luck. Lizards, snakes, turtles and small mammals not able to find enough under ground refuge were toast. Visiting many areas within the burn reveals an eerie silence. Even though most migrant birds were not back in the area at the time of the fire, the fire still affected them by drastically reducing their food base. There is an obvious lack of insects and therefore birds in the fire zone compared to nearby, unburned prairie. But the plant recovery has been incredible! This post is not about the beautiful recovery. It's about some of the wildlife losses and, particularly, some of the magnificent big hardwoods lost to the flames. While the amazing lush regrowth will hasten recovery of all, let us take a moment to consider some of the wildlife casualties.
|Ted Alexander and Heidi stand next to what was recognized as the world record Little (Texas) Walnut, Juglans microcarpa. Ted and son Brian had taken great measures to clear cedars around this giant in order to protect it from fire.|
Sadly, the TLC that Ted and Brian had performed was to no avail in the face of this monster fire.
|It doesn't look like much but this was the state record Honey Mesquite tree on the Merrill Ranch.|
|A fried porcupine. Photo by Roy Beeley|
|What appears to once have been a bobcat provides stark evidence of no escape |
for some. Photo by Brian Alexander
|Many snakes, turtles and lizards, such as this|
Great Plains Skink, certainly died in the inferno.
Photo by Brian Alexander.
|Early reports are that box turtles suffered high mortalities which|
is not too surprising considering the swiftness of the fire.
|This coyote probably was a victim of the fire. It seemed fitting|
to portray the skeleton in black and white.