‘Wildlife are really resilient:’ Collared big game animals safe after Brian Head Fire

‘Wildlife are really resilient:’ Collared big game animals safe after Brian Head Fire

(Division of Wildlife Resources)

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SALT LAKE CITY — While the Brian Head fire torched more than 100 square miles, cost $34 million to fight and forced some 1,500 people from their homes last month, one demographic has been surprisingly resilient: the wildlife.

According to Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), all of the GPS collared big game animals survived the massive fire by staying one step ahead of the burning flames.

“As the fire moved, so did the animals. They moved out ahead of the fire and then some of those animals moved back around into those same areas where they were before after,” said DWR regional outreach manager Phil Tuttle.

Photo: Danon Hulet, Area Forester for Forestry Fire and State Lands

The DWR tracked the movements of a cow elk, doe deer and bear during the fire, and all three of the animals stayed ahead of the burn or found safety in areas of land that weren’t yet aflame.

“The fire burned mosaically in a lot of areas — it just kind of burned in big patches — so there were a lot of refuge areas for (the wildlife) during the fire,” Tuttle said.

The cow elk, especially, moved to meadow areas that weren’t burning, simply meandering around and finding new safe zones, Tuttle said. The doe deer was displaced by the fire, but crossed a road and stayed on the other side while the bear stayed about 100 or 200 yards in front of the fire at all times.

“We have had some biologists in the area looking around, and they’ve seen a lot of big game animals … (like) deer and elk that have actually even moved back into the burned areas, which is pretty wild,” Tuttle said.

The DWR posted some of their findings on Facebook and many commenters wondered how the aftermath of the fire would affect the upcoming hunting season, especially since many had drawn tags to be able to hunt big game animals in the area.

“I drew this area this year, as did my son. I have no intention on hunting it and causing further stress to the animals. I was more curious of the opinion of the DWR and their plans for the future of the herds,” said one Facebook commenter.

According to the DWR, however, it’s still too early to tell how the fire will affect hunting this year, though Tuttle says the fire has diminished the wildlife population less than most may think.

“Wildlife are really resilient. They have dealt with fires throughout the history of time, and they are able to react,” Tuttle said. “Does it kill some wildlife? I’m sure it does. But I don’t know that from a population level standpoint that there’s any huge impact.”

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