by LARRY PYNN July 12, 2017 2:32 PM PDT
Angelika Langen examines a black bear under her care at Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers. NORTHERN LIGHTS WILDLIFE SOCIETY
A major wildlife rehabilitation facility is bracing for the devastating impact of the B.C. wildfires on birds and mammals.
“It’s going to be horrific,” Angelika Langen, co-founder of non-profit Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, said in an interview Wednesday.
“We’re expecting a storm in the aftermath of the fires. It’s pretty horrible for the wildlife with this huge area affected. It’s all over. It’s going to have an impact on numbers. At this large scale, it’s going to be devastating.”
The B.C. Wildfire Service reports that wildfires have consumed more than 700 square kilometres so far this year across the province, mostly in the Cariboo region.
Northern Lights accepts large and small mammals for rehabilitation and release, while typically sending birds south to facilities such as OWL (Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society) in Delta and Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. in Burnaby.
Northern Lights has a mobile team that visits areas of the province in greatest need, and is licensed to use tranquilizers to capture wildlife. It also has catch poles, live traps, kennels and medical kits for injuries, including burns.
Langen said the full impact won’t be known until the wildfires are over and people get back into the areas currently closed off due to fire danger.
She is already preparing her facility to better handle the anticipated influx of wildlife, readying enclosures, including for possible enlargement with portable fencing for emergencies.
Based on her experience with past wildfires, Langen said smaller animals, including birds still in nests and other young of the year “won’t have a chance to get out” by outrunning the fire. The impact extends down the food chain to snakes and frogs.
Larger animals such as deer and bears stand the best chance of finding safe ground, but may leave behind young that cannot keep up.
“We expect a lot of displaced and orphaned animals that have lost or been separated from their parents,” Langen said. “It’s really hard to predict. It depends on how many people get into those areas after the fires and what will be found.”
The Northwest Territories government reports that fire “disturbance to the boreal forest is necessary for wildlife habitat and diversity. Excluding fire from the landscape causes an unnatural aging of the forest and loss of the habitat mosaic.”
Managed fires can actually improve or maintain wildlife habitat, and reduce the risk and intensity of future wildfires by removing some of the potential fuel, the government adds.
According to The Wildlife Society in the U.S., a study evaluated the effects of different conditions — unburned and prescribed and wildland fires — on populations and habitats of birds throughout the West.
In the northern sites, prescribed fire treatments resulted in increased occupancy rates for many bark-insectivore, cavity-nesting, aerial-insectivore and ground-insectivore species, whereas some foliage insectivores and seed specialists declined. In the Southwest, the impacts of prescribed fire treatment on breeding birds were minor. Overall, more species benefited than not two to three years after a prescribed fire.