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Earth Notes: After the Fire Part V (Fire and Elk)

Two elk flee a wildfire in California

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: After the Fire V (Fire and Elk)

In this last installment of our After the Fire series, we'll look again at the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. It was the largest wildfire in modern Arizona's history. But the fire didn't burn the forest evenly. Its temperature varied with the terrain and the time of day, leaving behind an intricate mosaic of trees and other vegetation.

While a quarter of the affected area was burned severely, another 25 percent was burned to only a moderate degree. Half of the forest was burned only lightly, or not at all.

So over the last six years a patchwork of newly sprouting vegetation with nearby stands of unaffected forest has provided ideal habitat for wildlife, particularly deer and elk, to feed and bed down in.

Based on helicopter surveys done every year, biologists with the Arizona Game and Fish Department have found that numbers of elk in the Rodeo-Chediski area have blossomed. So have populations of other game species, such as wild turkey, mule deer and Mearn's quail.

Elk have responded enthusiastically to the grasses and herbaceous plants that have sprouted in the host of new clearings created by the fire. Each adult eats about five pounds of forage per day, on average, so a herd can have quite an impact on regrowing vegetation.

As a result, elk hunting permits have been increased substantially in the area to help prevent populations from growing too rapidly. That may ensure that the elk don't eat themselves and other wildlife out of house, and home.

-Diane Hope