By Michelle Werts
During wildfire season, oftentimes, our attention is drawn to the big stories:
- The evacuation of up to 12,000 campers and hikers in Angeles National Forest over Labor Day Weekend due to the 4,000-plus-acre Williams Fire.
- More than 7.6 million acres burned across the country as of August 31, 2012 — on pace to be one of the worst years for wildfire in the last decade.
- An estimated $449.7 million in damage to Colorado and its residents from record-setting blazes in 2012.
However, in the last week, two smaller stories have emerged that are heartbreaking, inspiring and illuminating of how far-reaching wildfires can be.
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.
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.