June 13, 2011
Low Elk Mortality Expected in Arizona Wildfire
MISSOULA, Mont.—With wildfire burning through some of Arizona’s renowned elk country, and with media reporting “devastated” wildlife and habitat, concerned citizens are calling for an emergency feeding program for elk that survive the blaze.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation says elk mortality from wildfire is typically low, making supplemental feeding unnecessary.
“Elk are extremely mobile and adaptable. In a fire event, they simply get out of the way and move to other areas with adequate food, water and cover,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “We’ve seen elk return to burned areas very quickly, sometimes within days. Fire releases nutrients and rejuvenates decadent grasses and forbs. Burns are usually quite fertile and when they begin to green up, elk really prosper.”
When fire burns very hot, such as in overgrown or undermanaged areas of a forest, soils can be damaged. But wildfires typically burn in a mosaic pattern that creates a diversity of habitat favorable to elk and many other species.
Biologists say Arizona’s Wallow Fire is burning in a similar fashion to the massive Rodeo-Chedeski fire of 2002, which brought very little direct mortality to elk. Most that died were at the base of the Mogollon Rim where they became trapped in box canyons. The Wallow Fire started on top of the rim, so biologists speculate that direct mortality to elk may be even less.
Even in the great Yellowstone fires of 1988, fewer than 100 elk died.
Both the Rodeo-Chedeski and Yellowstone fires proved beneficial to elk in following years. Biologists will assess impacts following the Wallow Fire, but at this time there’s no reason to expect a different outcome.
By official policy, RMEF may support feeding of elk only in emergency situations and only when supported by state wildlife agencies.