• The Publisher’s Notebook •
Wildlife and the State’s Fires: Sounds of Silence
BY ANNE SOBLE
Two weeks ago, the Malibu Surfside News was among those on the scene with a firsthand account of how the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted eight young condors that were not ready for release from their holding pen at Molera State Park in Big Sur to another shelter at Pinnacles National Monument as a wind-driven holocaust veered toward their quarters. They are safe but wildlife experts remain concerned about the 43 condors living in the wild in this area. Three chicks in nests within the ravaged burn zone are a top priority. It is now thought that one of the nests has burned. The danger is still so high and the access so constrained that it may be some time before an accurate evaluation of the birds’ status is completed. The more than two dozen mature condors that live in the Big Sur area are banded with transmitters that beam radio signals. Nearly another dozen are fitted with the latest GPS devices. Transmission from one of these was received from the Atascadero area, 100 miles away.
The condors are but one example of what the more than 1700 wildfires have done to the state’s wildlife population and habitat. Fire is a natural part of California’s overall ecosystem, and wildlife has learned to adapt to it and thrive from its benefits. But this year’s fires were so big and so hot that the wildlife toll is unprecedented. It will take years for burned wildlife habitat to heal. Reports of disoriented birds and animals and sightings of charred remains of the smallest to the largest of species abound. Some of the animals that did not die may have been forced into habitat that is not be as hospitable, or be subject to increased inter-species conflict. Fires denude the land of critical vegetation, even encasing the soil in a impenetrable crust. These conditions take time to heal.
Hundreds of years ago, the Chumash set small fires, “smokes,” in Malibu to cut back foliage to promote acorn gathering and access to small game. The chaparral burned lightly every dozen or so years, removing deadwood and enriching plants. Today’s fires are so super-fueled that they burn at intensities that the best-equipped firefighters are powerless to control. These fires are especially damaging to species that are few in number and location dependent. Steps must be taken to protect them, or the state’s wildlands will turn into wastelands devoid of the majesty that is California’s glorious natural heritage.