Summer wildfires will impact hunting in numerous ways

Among the topics set for this week’s Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting in Trinidad is a consideration of emergency regulations dealing with the impacts of the summer’s wildfires on hunting.

There weren’t any specific regulations announced before the meeting, but it’s not surprising some concern has arisen after the fires this year in Colorado.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported this year alone wildfires have burned more than 2.46 million acres across the West, including Alaska, and as of Monday there were 21 active fires affecting 332,000 acres.

That means a lot of landscape changes will affect hunters this year and for perhaps for decades to come.

What do fires mean to hunters? The list is long, including loss of access, loss of habitat and changes in animal behavior.

When I asked Southwest Region senior terrestrial biologist Scott Wait about the potential impacts of wildfire, the immense West Fork fire in southwest Colorado still was burning.

The fire, which eventually torched approximately 110,000 acres before the fall rains arrived, could affect hunters in many ways, ranging from the danger of standing dead snags to long-term closures in burned areas and an increased risk of flash flooding, debris flows and other impacts within and downstream of the burned areas.

But it’s not all negative, Wait said.

“On the positive side, these fires also seem to have a huge diversity in burn intensity, which will be beneficial to many wildlife species, big game particularly,” Wait said. “If the monsoons develop, some of those benefits will be seen as early as this fall and will last for many years (decades). I think elk hunting will be great where access is open, and deer hunting should be good.”

Fires also get rid of over-mature habitat, providing better forage in large areas with the natural landscape contours preferred by big game.

It’s not uncommon for big game to return to burned areas as soon as they cool, seeking the nutrient-rich young growth that follows in the wake of fires.

“It’s possible there may be significant improvement in deer habitat, hopefully boosting the deer herds long-term, and some positive (and) some negative impacts to moose habitat,” Wait said.

Any changes in hunting regulations will be posted on these pages, and hunters are advised to contact their local Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service office about access questions.


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