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COLUMN: Forest fires impact animals | Sports


Climate change, persistent drought, massive wildfires, that’s summer and early autumn in the mountains. It’s a never-changing situation that seems to only be compounded by the human factor, as foolish folks inadvertently or deliberately light fires that rage through the landscape, destroying habitat, wildlife and harmony. Each year is seemingly worse than the previous.

Ever wonder what our feathered friends do? Is it mostly a case of flight or fry? Can the average feather-head out-fly the raging progress of a major fire as it storms through the timber? Do they even have enough in the form of survival instincts to wing it? To leave when the SHTF? Then there are the fledglings – crispy critters without a choice in the matter.

A couple of years back, national news let slip that they had received a translated copy of a Muslim handbook containing instructions for waging their Jihad or holy war on America. In it was a portion dedicated to instructions for starting wildfires in the U.S. as one way of many to disrupt domestic harmony and fight for Allah. It was yanked off the national news scene super quick. Why? Lie or truth? The true fact is that wildfires have gone from being an event, to being a tool, to being a weapon in some instances.

As to the aftereffects of a major fire, we’ve all seen the stories on the tube of the cuddly little bear cub that was rescued and bandaged and nursed back to health after being rescued by firefighters during a major woodlands fire. So, just how many young cuddly little critters didn’t make it? How many mature animals perish in a major fire? Do the powers that be know, or even care?

Want to discuss the real effects of global warming centralized to one area? Now we’re talking forest fires. That’s real warming. Rumor had it that after the 1988 fires that destroyed over a million acres of wildlands including great swatches of Yellowstone Park, that the park administration moved in with dozens of earth movers (i.e. excavators and backhoes and such) to create mass graves for secretly burning hundreds to thousands of head of wildlife that park officials claimed didn’t die during the fires. And yes, there were pictures, many of us saw them. 

Explain to me how a million acres of prime summer habitat can burn and none or very few wild critters are hardly harmed? Or is that too political a question for many of our citizens’ personal comfort? Since everything is situational, then let’s examine the plight of a lesser species, the pinyon jay. And no, these aren’t the robin-sized noisy gray scavengers that infest any campground, begging for crumbs. Or, lacking a handout, stealing them. Although not as handily as campground ravens.

We always called those little grey birds “Camp Robbers,” because that’s what they are. Technically, I think those birds are called Canada jays. Regardless, the Washington-D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife recently filed a petition with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection of the bird under the ESA. This was for the pinyon jays, not the Canadian variety. Their main playing point being that they consider the bird as being an essential part of the high desert ecosystem. The group insists that this population, the pinyon jays, has declined an estimated 80% over the past five decades. 

I’m wondering what pot-smoking, long-haired hippie is wandering around counting these birds and has been doing so for over the last 50 years. I’m not even going to dispute that the population may be growing smaller, but really, they want us to believe that some one has been counting these feathered nut eaters for the last 50 years? I really doubt that since 50 years ago, nobody even cared, or even knew they should. 

Whatever, those concerned claim the population declines are well documented and these birds are disappearing faster than sage grouse, or good intentions on a first date. Since the pinyon-juniper forests where they live (the birds, not the hippies) cover more than 75,000 square miles in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico, with nearly 60% of the jay’s remaining population found in Nevada and New Mexico. 

Apparently, without the presence of these little feathered dudes, it’s possible that the remaining pinyon forests could gradually disappear since their continued regeneration depends primarily (as far as we presently know) on the jay’s habit of stashing pinyon seeds for future use and then forgetting where they put the seeds. Kind of like humans and TV remotes or car keys. 

All of which, the disappearance of the pinyon forests, is supposition based on an absence of folk hero figures like a Pinyon Nut/ Johnny Appleseed type of wandering hippie with an extreme conservation/restoration bent. Just saying.




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