MEDFORD, OR - Oregonians have been dealing with wildfires ever since humans first settled in the Pacific Northwest. Recently the fires have been so bad that 2018 saw the lowest recorded air quality in the region. Professor Stewart Janes, a professor of biology and conservationist at Southern Oregon University, attributes the intensity of the fires to an increasing buildup of fuel, “Fuels have built up over the last 100 years. We’ve now created a situation that’s never existed before in the forest: And now we tend to have larger, more intense fires than we’ve ever had in the past.” Certain plants and trees can grow rapidly after a fire. And while the growth can be good for the animals and the soil, it leaves more burnable vegetation for the following season.
“It grows so quick. That Klamath Fire - you already have oak trees growing back right away,” says local firefighter, Anthony Najar-Zamora. But the smoke caused by the fires is hazardous to the locals and of course the local wildlife. Corey Allen, the Animal Care and Education Coordinator at Wildlife Images remarked, “Breathing in smoke with that large particulate matter is really irritating toward your respiratory system. Birds in particular have a really sensitive respiratory tract.” The animals in their care were, of course, protected and secured with an evacuation plan in place just in case the fires got bad enough.
When animals find themselves displaced by a wildfire, they can often venture into human territory. If a fire spreads fast enough, those animals can even start new fires. Anthony Najar-Zamora stated, “Say the forest is on fire, we could have rabbits or deer on fire crossing roads; across our handline we just dug and creating a new spot fire that we get to take care of.” 2018 marks Anthony’s fourth season fighting wildfires, and he is currently studying to become a crew boss.
While contingency plans are in place to deal with the fires that are sure to come. More work is needed from the locals to minimize the damage caused. Corey offers that organizations like Wildlife Images provide opportunities for people to learn more about their environment and the behaviors of the local animals.