Bitter Tidings for Sweets

by Susan Laszewski

Sugaring. Credit: Rachael Traub/Flickr

Growing up in Vermont, where one in four trees is a sugar maple, March meant that friends with sugar houses would start tapping their trees for the sap to make maple syrup. Winter meant sugar on snow, summer meant maple ice cream and weekends in any season meant buckwheat pancakes soaked in the good stuff. The sugar maple is the state tree and most people would tell you that maple is the state flavor as well. It’s part of the culture.

It’s also part of the economy. Maple syrup means more than delicious breakfasts and fond memories; it’s a multimillion dollar industry. In Vermont, which accounts for nearly half of all U.S. production, it has a market value of over 30 million dollars. The sugar maple grows only in Canada and the U.S., which means it’s up to us to satisfy the cravings of an entire globe.

The trees — and the industry — depend on northeastern climates. The trees rely on snowpack to keep their roots from freezing and the flow of sap relies on the cycle of freezing nights and thawing days typical of late winter and early spring. Without that sap, of course, there would be none of the sweet stuff.

Tubing for sugar maple sap.

Tubing for sugar maple sap. A new nozzle is drilled in March. Credit: Christine Fournier/Flickr

That’s why researchers are so interested in what effect changing temperatures might have on the tree and its sap production. Maple syrup is a fickle business. So many factors go into determining a given season’s yield that trying to predict a good or bad year is like playing darts blindfolded. So, the U.S. Forest Service and Cornell University have been patiently conducting their research for decades to collect a clear enough picture to identify trends. What they’ve found is that northeastern producers like those in Vermont and New Hampshire may continue to see the season shifting earlier. Many producers are already tapping their trees weeks earlier than their parents and grandparents did.

There may be even graver news for producers in the southern areas of the maple’s range, such as Pennsylvania. The research suggests they should be prepared for an overall reduction in yields in the next 50 to 100 years. The sugaring season is not just starting earlier, it’s also getting shorter. The Proctor Maple Research Center of the University of Vermont has found that the season decreased by an average of 10 percent throughout the northeast over the last 40 years.

These findings pose more questions. Will the sugar maples be able to migrate north fast enough? Will the industry be prepared to follow them? What effect will losing such a key industry have on areas in New England and Quebec? Let’s hope that 100 years from now, children can still look forward to sugar on snow, or we could be in for a bitter future.

Taking His Love of Trees Worldwide

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

This week’s International Society of Arboriculture’s 2012 True Professional of Arboriculture has travelled as far as China to bring arboriculture practices and work safety education to people who need them. Donald Lee Picker is an ISA-Certified arborist, CEO of Asia Tree Preservation, Ltd. and chairperson of the Institute of Arboriculture Studies in Hong Kong.

Donald Lee Picker

Credit: Donald Lee Picker/ISA

Donald Lee Picker’s ties to arboriculture reach back to his early years growing up in Belleville, Ill., where he started a lawn mowing service at age 12. Later, while studying cross-culture communications at Crown College in St. Bonafacius, Minn., Picker also studied planting and landscape architecture. He worked every summer at Swedberg Nursery in Battle Lake, Minn.

“You learn the basics,” Picker remembers. “You start right from the beginning and are put through the ropes. I worked with a handsaw first for about half a year and I dragged brush through the snow in my first job in Vegetation Management. It was good hard knocks learning.”

After college, tree work continued with jobs in utility vegetation management and the formation of his first business, Picker Tree Experts, Ltd. “My whole life I wanted to work outdoors,” says Picker. “I was satisfied doing what I’ve always wanted to do, but there was a deep interest in peoples of the world and their languages and cultures.”

Picker’s natural curiosity of culture and people led him to think globally instead of centering on what was happening in his own backyard.

Donald Lee Picker

Credit: Donald Lee Picker/ISA

He sold his business, obtained an advanced degree in cross culture communications from Wheaton College Graduate School in Chicago, and moved to South China. His family then spent the next nine years involved in relief and development work in China while studying the culture and languages there. One of his initial projects was researching to help improve a population’s way of life. “A number of the Yao people in South China had outgrown the area and soil was limited, so they had to move,” recalls Picker. “We worked with the people to choose a new area and decide what they should live on (fruit trees) that could be sold fresh or dried. They went from near starvation to making about $1000 U.S. dollars a year, a significant improvement.  It was such a satisfying project.”

A brief return stay in the U.S. from 2000 to 2004 allowed Picker to become an ISA Certified Arborist, and re-establish Picker Tree Experts. It also gave him the idea to take modern practices of arboriculture to areas of China that could benefit from education. In 2004, Don and his wife went back to Hong Kong, taking his tools and Picker Tree Experts with them.

Picker has been instrumental in promoting arboriculture abroad for the past decade. He is currently the CEO of Asia Tree Preservation, Ltd, his tree care company founded in China in 2007. He also helped establish the Institute of Arboriculture Studies-Hong Kong, coordinated the translation and publishing of the first-ever Tree Climbers’ Guide; Chinese 1st Edition and has long been a lobbyist through his work with the ISA International Safety Committee for safety among tree workers.

There is a great need for a special focus on safety in Hong Kong, as in many countries, where in some cases no helmets are worn and safety belts are not attached,” admits Picker. “We are committed to providing educational programs to raise the standards of arboriculture practices and also create a safer work environment. Whatever we do, the result should be that someone is educated.” —ISA and Donald Lee Picker

Join us next Friday to meet a True Professional who went from falling out of trees to giving some of the most memorable safety talks in the industry.

Did you miss our other profiles of True Professional honorees? Meet Tim Kastning, Bruce Kreitler and Bill Logan.

Quiet Sands

by Susan Laszewski

Eight years ago today – after four years of support from locals in the San Luis Valley in Colorado– several public and private lands came together to form one of our most unique and biologically diverse national parks.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Credit: Susan Laszewski

On an average day at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, you might hear children laughing – their dogs barking along in harmony – as they run across the giant sand dunes or slide down them on sleds. Still, the overall mood remains one of calm, quiet reflection. The dunes inspire a certain speechless awe. Enhancing the quiet is the fact that – despite all it has to offer – Great Sand Dunes is one of the National Park Service’s best kept secrets, receiving just .001 percent of visitors annually. When I visited on Christmas day, this effect was magnified. Just one other visitor trudged up the dunes, step by slow step, with his dog. It was just us, the wind and the sand. This place seems like a landscape outside of time – always changing, but always the same, as the sands shift back and forth. The dunes rise and fall like the inhales and exhales of the land, each breath lasting weeks or months.

The dunes formed over thousands of years, as drought periods dried out shallow lakes in the San Luis Valley. This left the grains of sand that had been washed there from the San Juan Mountains exposed to the wind, which piled them up against the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There they remain today, kept more or less in place by competing winds, towering up to 750 feet and covering 30 square miles.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Credit: Susan Laszewski

It is this vast ocean of sand that the park is best known for, but Great Sand Dunes is home to a variety of ecosystems, from wetlands to tundra to the many forests of the Sangre de Cristos. These forests gained national preserve status in 2000 out of concern for the water systems that the dunefield and their surrounding ecosystem depend on. By protecting the forests – from the krummholz, or “crooked wood,” hunched against the wind at 11,700 feet to the ponderosa pines in the foothills – the mountain streams and groundwater were also protected. On September 13, 2004, these areas joined the dunes – then a national monument – and formerly private lands to the west, to form what is now officially known as Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

This is a place with a magical ability to make time seem irrelevant. Once time is irrelevant, age becomes irrelevant as well. Whatever your age, after a slow trek up the dunes, and a moment of reverence for the vast landscape you look down on from wherever their summit is that day, you may find yourself tearing down them with abandon, just another carefree kid with a dog.

Going Up In FLAMEs

by Amanda Tai
Credit: The National Guard/ Flickr

The western U.S. is experiencing one of the worst wildfire seasons on record with blazes leaving over 8 million acres scorched, according to federal data. Damage from these fires has impacted areas from the Rocky Mountains of Montana all the way down to Southern California and Texas. As fires continue to burn this year, the figures are quickly approaching the current record-holding year, 2006, in which 9.8 million acres burned. While there has been a general decrease in the number of fires over the last decade, the number of acres destroyed per fire has dramatically increased. Scientists have made the connection that fires are burning stronger and for longer periods of time as a result of climate change and hotter summer temperatures. According to a recent study published in the journal Ecosphere, over a third of the world will see increased wildfire activity over the next 30 years as a result of climate change.

Climate change poses a major problem for wildfires, but so does federal funding. Like all federal agencies, the Forest Service has had its share of funding issues as agency budgets continue to be cut. On August 23, Congress was notified that the Forest Service did not have enough wildfire funding for the remainder of the fiscal year. Considering how exponentially destructive wildfires have been this year, it’s not surprising that more funding is needed.

Luckily, the House of Representatives included $800 million in wildfire suppression funding for the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior in their Continued Resolution (CR) that will provide federal funding through March 2013. This was only after USDA Secretary Vilsack submitted a strategy that would transfer up to $400 million from other important agency programs. The House will vote on the CR this week and the Senate will consider a similar bill shortly after.

This all could have been avoided had the mechanisms put in place been used as they were intended. In 2009, the FLAME Act was created to make sure that the Forest Service would have enough wildfire funding without having to borrow funds from other programs. This emergency wildfire fund is in addition to the requested amount the administration submits each year – based on a ten-year average cost.  As averages go, some years will cost more and some will cost less. Additional funds from years that cost less get rolled over to make up for the years that cost more. But in tight fiscal times, it is difficult to leave “extra” money aside for future use when there is so much demand for it.

Mechanisms like the FLAME Act should be allowed to function as they are intended to, which requires fiscal responsibility from the administration and Congress. While out-of-control, dangerous fires need to be suppressed, other important programs of the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior shouldn’t be underfunded as a result. Visit our Action Center and tell Secretary Vilsack to request emergency wildfire funding instead of tapping into other essential Forest Service funding.

Clearing Space for a Space Shuttle

by Susan Laszewski
Space shuttle Endeavour

Space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA Headquarters

The space shuttle Endeavour has successfully completed 4,600 trips around the Earth, but the trip from LAX airport to the California Science Center, where it will spend its retirement, is proving to be a challenge on another frontier.

The shuttle is too tall to clear overpasses on the highway route, too heavy to be airlifted and too delicate to be disassembled for transport. With all other options exhausted, the center and city officials have resorted to cutting down approximately 400 trees to allow the five-story-tall, 162,000-pound spacecraft to pass through the city streets. The trees include mature pines, magnolias, ficus and myrtles. Cutting has already begun in Inglewood.

“Mission 26,” as the October 12 trip has been dubbed following Endeavour’s 25 space missions, is slated to be a two-day parade and citywide celebration. “Los Angeles is a world-class city that deserves an out-of-this-world-attraction like the Endeavour,” says Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement on the matter. “We welcome the shuttle with open arms.” Some residents agree. “I’m really excited to see the Endeavour. It’s a once in a lifetime chance,” one resident told NBC Nightly News.

Ficus trees line the streets of Inglewood, California

Ficus trees line the streets of Inglewood, California. Credit: waltarrrrr/Flickr

Not all residents are pleased, though. “It’s unacceptable to cut down oxygen-giving species just to let something pass by. I would love to see the shuttle housed here, but I don’t think we should lose trees that are 40, 60 years old,” West Area Neighborhood Council Board Member Johnnie Raines tells The Guardian. Los Angeles is a hot city and residents depend on their urban forests to shade the streets. The EPA says that shaded surfaces can be between 20 and 45 degrees cooler than “peak temperatures of unshaded materials,” such as an L.A. sidewalk in the sun. Many also worry about the effect losing the trees will have on property values in this already tough economy.

That’s why, as residents in Inglewood mourn their loss, residents four miles away may be celebrating their own trees’ close call. A shorter route that would also have required cutting trees was considered, but rejected partially due to the trees’ cultural significance. Leimert Boulevard’s pines and firs — planted in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. — have been spared.

The California Science Center will plant two trees for every one that is cut, but it will be decades before these saplings are able to provide the same environmental benefits as the trees that currently line these neighborhood streets. On the other hand, officials have said that the new trees will be more appropriate for the climate. Currently, the neighborhood’s trees consist largely of moisture-loving species like crape myrtles and sweetgum, both of which require heavy watering in dry, hot southern California.

All parties agree that searching for the best solution for city neighborhoods is, indeed, an endeavor.

Birthday Reflections

by Susan Laszewski

I am pleased to welcome Susan Laszewski to Loose Leaf. Susan became part of the American Forests family last month and is joining me as the co-editor of Loose Leaf. ~MW

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Credit: Jim Brekke/Flickr

American Forests celebrates our 137th birthday today.

When you’re young, birthdays are a time to throw parties and eat cake and ice cream, but as we get older, they become an opportunity for reflection. They’re a chance to look back through the years and take stock of what we’ve accomplished and what is still left to do. At 137, we have a lot to reflect on. For our birthday, join us on a walk down memory lane.

In 2012, it may be hard to imagine a time when there was no organized effort to protect and restore America’s forests, but that was the case until American Forests — then called the American Forestry Association — came on the scene in 1875. Today, we’re still the only conservation nonprofit dedicated to the protection of forest ecosystems.

It’s also hard to imagine a time when there were no designated national forests, but until as recently as 1911, the federal government wasn’t allowed to purchase land in the East to protect headwaters of rivers and watersheds. American Forests fought for the passage of the Weeks Act, which finally gave permission for just such action and led to the creation of many national forests in the East. Today, about 20 million of the nearly 200 million acres of national forests and grasslands are lands that were established under this act.

2010 National Christmas Tree

2010 National Christmas Tree. Credit: American Forests

It might feel strange to remember a time when the nation didn’t come together against the darkness of winter under the National Christmas Tree , but it was in 1923 that the first cut Christmas tree was lit by President Coolidge. One year later, American Forests provided the first living National Christmas Tree.

Equally difficult to imagine is a time when the largest living organisms on the planet — trees with 3,000 years’ worth of stories to tell — were seen as mere timber. That’s why, in 1940, we established the National Register of Big Trees to remind people of the majesty and value of big trees, old trees and other special trees.

Will our children one day have difficulty imagining a city street with no trees to shade us from heat and clean the air we breathe? Will they marvel at our stories of deforestation so widespread that it affected our climate on a global scale?  We hope so. That’s why we’re working hard to educate people about the benefits of urban forests and help cities improve and expand their forests. It’s why our Global ReLeaf program has planted more than 40 million trees since 1990.

There will always be new challenges that forests will need our help fighting. That’s why we’re looking forward to many birthdays to come. We’re not afraid of getting older because there’s still so much to do. Join us in our journey.


The Poetry in Tree Care

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

This week’s International Society of Arboriculture’s 2012 True Professional of Arboriculture isn’t just a tree lover, but is also a poet and writer. Bill Logan is a New York-based, ISA-Certified arborist, teacher at the New York Botanical Garden and president of Urban Arborists, Inc. and writer with W.W. Norton.

Bill Logan

Credit: Bill Logan/ISA

“One of the things that attracted me to the arboriculture profession is that people who do it well, do it really well,” says Bill Logan. “They are always learning, and they act from a global understanding of how trees live in their environment.”

Logan, who grew up climbing enormous trees surrounding his home near San Francisco, never thought anyone could make a living from trees. He also was interested in poetry and writing.

“When I compost, I often think of poems: “This Compost” by Walt Whitman or “Ode to Rot” by John Updike,” explains Logan. “These poems relate to how things take place. I like to write and teach about what I learn. I write books about natural history from points of view that show the relationships between people and nature.”

Among his challenges as an arborist is keeping historic trees alive. One of Logan’s favorite consulting jobs was assessing the tree collection at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum on Long Island. William Bayard Cutting was a New York attorney, real estate developer and philanthropist who built his estate on the property in the mid-1800s. Some of the other trees on Logan’s resume include the largest and oldest in New York. Noted American author E.B. White’s Second Tree from the Corner was removed when it could no longer be preserved through a combined effort of pruning, propping and cabling. But Logan’s tree firm saved cuttings from two of the willow trees, and those transplanted cuttings are now more than 30 feet tall. Plans are to reintroduce the historic tree around the city.

“We may spend whole days caring for great trees,” Logan says. “We regularly look after the second largest tree in New York — a 130-foot-tall tulip tree— that occupies its own lot in Riverdale. The property owner could no doubt sell the river-view lot for quite a bit of money, but will not disturb his beloved tree.”

“Trees are so wonderful. Our ideas change all the time about why they do what they do,” Logan continues. “It’s fascinating, for instance, to watch the way that water flows through a tree. The fact I can learn that and have practical consequences in the work that I do is a blast. It’s the whole simple system that is complex at the same time. I will never finish understanding trees, and I love that about it.”

Next week, we’ll meet a True Professional who began caring for landscapes at the age 12, when he started his own lawn-mowing service.

Did you miss our other profiles of True Professional honorees? Meet Tim Kastning here and Bruce Kreitler here.

Worried About Wolves

by Scott Steen, President & CEO
Wolves in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Wolves in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Scott Kublin/Flickr

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that Wyoming’s population of gray wolves had recovered enough to be removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Effective Sept. 30, the wolves will be managed under Wyoming’s state management plans. For a species that was extinct in the region from the 1930s until its reintroduction in the mid-1990s, this announcement should be heartening news. Instead, it has left many conservation groups, including American Forests, with grave concerns about how the delisting will affect the species’ long-term recovery.

The FWS reports that the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is at 1,774 adult wolves with more than 109 breeding pairs — all numbers that federal biologists feel indicate the species’ full recovery. According to the FWS announcement of the delisting, Wyoming’s state management plan would follow statutory and regulatory standards by managing for a buffer above minimum target population numbers; its goals are to maintain at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs within Wyoming — numbers far smaller than the current wolf population.

As part of the state management plan, the wolves will be eligible to be hunted beginning Oct. 1, with varying degrees of regulation. Hunting the wolves will be prohibited in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and no hunting will be allowed in John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the National Elk Refuge and the Wind River Reservation in 2012 — although these prohibitions could change in subsequent years. In Wyoming’s Trophy Game Area, up to 52 wolves can be hunted in 2012. In all other areas of the state, it’s open season on gray wolves — with a management plan that is too vaguely written to deliver on its promise of protecting the population from overhunting.

Gray wolf

Gray wolf. Credit: Ellie Attebery (OnyxDog86)/Flickr

Here at American Forests, we believe that any management plan must consider the whole ecosystem. Wolves play a vital role in Greater Yellowstone by controlling the population of deer, moose and elk. As a predator, they cull sick and frail members of these herds, ensuring healthier animal populations. They also reduce overgrazing by these species, improving the health of field and forest. To ensure these benefits continue, we need strong, detailed management plans that protect the diverse elements of the ecosystem. And this is where we feel that the Wyoming state management plan for gray wolves falls short.

While the management plan clearly identifies a minimum gray wolf population goal, it is unclear what happens between today’s population of 1,700-plus and the minimum of 100. Is it really desirable to allow the gray wolf population in the region to be reduced to less than a tenth of its current size? And what larger effects would this have on the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem? In a study released last year, researchers discovered that the reintroduction of wolves and their subsequent effect on the area’s elk population caused forest health to improve because fewer elk foraging resulted in significantly less damage to trees and plants. With healthier trees and forests, bird populations increased, food supplies expanded for animals like beavers, and lakes and streams benefitted, to name just some of the positive effects.

A peer review of the management plan earlier this year revealed the inadequacies of the Wyoming state management plan in addressing how the region will ensure that the wolves don’t get hunted down to the minimum. Without these details, the plan lacks the heft necessary to ensure gray wolves’ long-term future in Wyoming and has implications for the overall health of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Celebrating All That Is Wild

by Amanda Tai

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. Credit: USFWS/Flickr

I’d like to take a moment to celebrate a major landmark in U.S. environmental policy that happened this week 48 years ago. Approved on September 3rd, the Wilderness Act of 1964 became the first piece of legislation in the U.S. to grant protection of designated wilderness areas under federal law. To protect these areas, the Wilderness Act first inaugurated a legal, yet surprisingly poetic, definition of wilderness:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The bill not only captured the essence of wilderness, but it also protected these designated areas under law. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, it established the National Wilderness Preservation System. Originally, the system was comprised of around nine million acres of wilderness. That’s less than half of a percent of the total land base in the U.S. But today, the system covers more than 107 million acres of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In order to add land to the National Wilderness Preservation System, land management agencies — as well as organizations and coalitions — determine what areas need federal protection and see if they fit the criteria listed under the Wilderness Act. Recommendations are then submitted and reviewed by Congress on a state-by-state basis. Click here for an infograph of how the U.S. Forest Service recommends new wilderness areas. Once an area is federally designated wilderness, it’s protected from road construction, logging, mining, and motor vehicles.

Rocky Mountain National Park. Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr

Last month, the four federal land agencies pledged to raise awareness about wilderness protection and provide opportunities for public participation in stewardship goals by signing a memorandum of understanding with the Society for Wilderness Stewardship. Agencies see the memorandum as an opportunity to increase stewardship activities over the next few years, leading up to the celebration of the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary in 2014.

This is a good thing because there’s still a need to increase wilderness protection and land stewardship. According to the PEW Environment Group, there are still about 200 million acres of federal land that should be, but are not yet, protected under the Wilderness Act. These areas include parts of national forests like the Tongass National Forest, wildlife refuges like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and national parks like Rocky Mountain National Park. The only way to ensure that these areas receive the highest form of protection is to get Congress to list them under the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Wildfire Orphans

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

During wildfire season, oftentimes, our attention is drawn to the big stories:

However, in the last week, two smaller stories have emerged that are heartbreaking, inspiring and illuminating of how far-reaching wildfires can be.

Idaho Fish and Game Biologist Chris Gaughan with Bernard

Idaho Fish and Game Biologist Chris Gaughan with Bernard. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

A late-July weekend of thunderstorms and lightning led to the ignition of a number of fires across Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho. These fires would become known as the Mustang Complex and to-date have burned across 215,000 acres with containment at only 16 percent. As you can imagine, a fire of that size is going to have consequences on the flora and fauna of the region, consequences that received a face last week.

Bernard, originally named Boo Boo, is a four-month-old black bear cub who was found clinging to a Douglas-fir along the Salmon River last weekend with his paws covered in second-degree burns. A California-based fire crew would search in vain for the cub’s mother before rescuers would take the cub under their wings and transport him for treatment and recovery — a recovery that’s still not guaranteed a week after his discovery.

Bernard is currently being treated by the Idaho Humane Society, and his veterinarian says signs are looking positive, but it may be another month before they’ll know for sure if he’ll recover sufficiently from his wounds to survive in the wild. Beyond his physical recovery, his caretakers are also being very cautious about the number of humans that Bernard is meeting, as for him to be successfully released back into the forest, he shouldn’t get too comfortable around people.

Chips with Mad River Hand Crew Superintendent Tad Hair

Chips with Mad River Hand Crew Superintendent Tad Hair. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Bernard wasn’t the only animal child orphaned by wildfire last week, though. A female bobcat kitten, named Chips, was rescued last week by members of the Mad River Hand Crew patrolling the Chips Fire in California’s Plumas National Forest. The Chips Fire, whose cause is being investigated, burned more than 75,000 acres from July 29th until its containment on August 31st. The Mad River team came across a dazed and confused Chips, the bobcat kitten, while conducting mop-up operations — activities to confirm that the fire is contained — on the north side of the fire.

The crew superintendent told SFGate Blog about how, after assessing that the kitten wasn’t in immediate, life-threatening danger, they tried to walk away, not wanting to potentially harm her more by removing her from her natural environment. Chips, however, began following the crew, and after finding no adult bobcat prints in the area, the Mad River crew contacted Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care to get Chips the help she needed. The Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care team discovered an infection in Chips’ eyes and second-degree burns on her paws, but is confident that she’ll recover. Once her injuries heal, they’ll socialize her with other bobcats and then release her back into the wild.

While the tales of Bernard and Chips are touching and hopeful, they also serve as reminders of the unseen effects that wildfires can often have on our environment. They don’t just cause evacuations of humans; they destroy homes — of two-legged, four-legged, multi-legged and winged creatures across the country. It’s a sobering thought.