The Mountain Fire’s blackening of a large portion of the wilderness caused many animals to lose their habitats last month.
Small burrowing animals can sometimes escape the flames by going underground, said Dr. Jennifer Gee, director of the University of California’s James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve. When they emerge after the fire, those who survive face numerous problems.
Their blackened habitat is now useless, and they often don’t know in which direction to go to find a new one. Further, since they now are out in the open, they are more vulnerable to predators as they attempt to relocate, according to Gee.
Most birds can fly to a new habitat, Gee said, unless the fire occurs during nesting season, which can cause distress. Fortunately, the Mountain Fire occurred after nesting season was over this year, so the birds were not as affected.
During the Mountain Fire, Anne Poopatanapong, U.S. Forest Service district wildlife biologist, who was head of the resources unit for the Incident Management Team, said the breeding pair of bald eagles at Lake Hemet seem to be largely undisturbed by the blaze. During the fire, helicopters avoided the eagle’s side of Lake Hemet as much as possible. The eagles, including their offspring who were flying on their own when the fire broke out, already have returned to the area.
Quail are usually able to outrun the fire, as many other ground animals do, stated Gee, a quail expert.
Creatures at the top of the food chain seem generally not to be affected by a fire as much as those lower down, according to Gee. Being larger animals, they can more often avoid the blaze by moving into unburned areas, and they feed off their natural prey there.
The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs, many of whom were released at the James Reserve in June, seem not affected by the smoke in that area. They breed quickly and are doing fine, Gee said. However, a planned release of frogs in Dark Canyon now is delayed due to a paucity of water at that location.
However, “the fire did burn the habitat where we have two MYLF populations in upper Tahquitz Valley and Willow creeks. We are still assessing the situation there,” said Dr. Adam Backlin, U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center ecologist, two weeks ago.