SAN ANGELO – With massive fires continuing to scorch the state, many wonder how the native wildlife are faring, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist.
Dr. Dale Rollins of San Angelo said he’s often asked questions about wildlife deaths from wildfire.
“My answer is: ‘Hardly any are lost,’ which often seems to disappoint them,” he said. “Many want to extrapolate scenes from ‘Bambi’ to the real world here in West Texas, but the truth of the matter is usually far less dramatic than a Hollywood production would portray.
“Even with the dramatic conflagrations the state has experienced almost daily over the past several weeks, I’d be surprised to hear of many deaths of game animals like deer, quail or turkey from the flames directly, with one glaring exception: deer contained within smaller, high-fenced ‘deer-proofed’ enclosures. But whatever losses occur from the flames themselves on low-fenced properties won’t be meaningful at our current game population levels.”
Rollins said less mobile ground-dwelling species like snakes and tortoises, and those which climb trees to escape danger such as porcupines, would be more vulnerable and likely fared worse than their fleeter neighbors.
Another point he’s often asked is whether or not predators who have been pushed off their native range by fire have now relocated along with the resident populations, thus increasing the likelihood of predation.
“Such concerns are conceivable, but likely short-lived if they do actually occur,” he said. “When it does finally rain, the burned areas will be lush with new growth and become more attractive to both prey animals and the predators that follow them. The problem is, we just don’t know when we’ll be blessed with that moisture.
“Apart from the catastrophic effects man experiences in the way of personal and property loss, remember that fire is a ‘natural’ form of habitat management under which these wildlife species evolved. The trouble is, these fires are on a different scale than what we’d like to see in a way that’s incompatible with our positions and landscape.”
Rollins said historically fires that burned across the southern Great Plains probably have been similar to those the state has experienced in recent weeks and were much different than the often-used cool-season prescribed burns used today.
“The severe drought, in and by itself, is a greater concern to our wildlife at the regional level than the fires,” Rollins said. “The fires are just compounding an already bad situation.”