California X Zone Fires
May Move Deer
The California Department of Fish and Game said today it is preparing to notify hunters about one of several forest fires that have swept through portions of northeastern California's "X" deer zones and about the expected short-term and long-term impacts on deer hunting.

Fish and Game said its license section in Sacramento plans to mail notices to 265 hunters holding tags for zone X5b in eastern Lassen County — alerting them that a substantial part of the zone has lost deer habitat to the fires and that many deer may stay out of the immediate burn area.

The notice also will let hunters know that federal land management agencies that have been fighting the fires may have road, fire and camp-site restrictions in place in some locales. To protect newly exposed soils, the agencies are requesting that hunters do not drive off-road in the burned areas.

The fires have struck during one the more severe drought periods on record to hit the upper end of California north of Mt. Shasta and east of the Cascade Range. Some areas of Lassen County have suffered through their lowest recorded precipitation in decades.

Fish and Game said rifle deer hunting in the nine northeastern X zones starts October 6. The area's few early-season archery hunters started their season on Saturday, August 18 — too early for Fish and Game to reach them with the notices, the DFG said.

Information available the week of August 18 from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service described several natural fires in various stages of containment, the two largest being in the Warner Mountains east of Alturas in Modoc County and in an area east of Ravendale between Shinn Mountain and Observation Peak in Lassen County.

At last report, the Observation fire had burned more than 60,000 acres in zone X5b, consuming valued deer summer and winter range habitat made up of sage, bitterbrush and mahogany. BLM officials said the fire also struck Spanish Springs Peak and had reached from the southeastern flank of Observation Peak to Painter Flat. DFG wildlife biologists estimated about 25% of the preferred hunting habitat of the zone had been affected.

In the South Warner Mountains, the "Blue Fire" had consumed about 32,000 acres of zone X3b, a great deal of it at higher elevations where large stands of timber tend to dominate the scenery. Much of the burned habitat is considered deer summer range, the DFG said.

Smaller fires were reported in portions of zones X2 and X3a, but were not expected to have any negative effect on deer or deer hunting, the DFG said. An estimated 20,000 acres of primarily winter range burned in zone X6b southeast of Doyle.

Fish and Game said hunting in the burned area of X5b may be poor because of reduced food sources for deer. The DFG also urged hunters who enter the area to comply with a BLM request that they not drive off-road through the burned site.

BLM said the Ramhorn Springs Campground will be open during hunting season, but warned that fire restrictions are in place that, among other things, prohibit campfires in the back country or campgrounds. Portable stoves and lanterns using gas, pressurized fuel or jellied petroleum may be used, the BLM said.

Campfire permits obtainable from BLM or the Forest Service are required to use stoves, the agency said. Smoking is allowed only in enclosed vehicles or developed recreation sites.

Additional information is available from the BLM's Eagle Lake field office at (530) 257-0456. Information on conditions in Modoc County is available from the Modoc National Forest by calling (530) 233-8847. The forest's website is at

The DFG said X5b, the first deer zone put under a tag quota more than 20 years ago, is considered a prime hunting area for large Rocky Mountain mule deer bucks. Hunters faced odds of about 10-to-1 in attempting to draw a tag for the area this year.

Unlike most areas of California where fire is considered by the DFG to be beneficial to deer and many other wildlife species, the Observation and Doyle fires in Lassen County have consumed "deer-friendly" plant life that could take decades to recover. In the meantime, encroaching juniper stands — partly a byproduct of fire suppression — and the presence of invasive non-native plants such as undesirable cheatgrass make the long-term outlook for deer grim, Fish and Game said.

Brush species that prospered in the middle decades of the 20th century and, in turn, fostered large deer numbers are being "phased out" by the expanding juniper stands, exotic plants and other factors such as an increasing number of damaging fires spread by the exotics, according to Fish and Game. As a result, there continues to be a steady decline in deer numbers in most northeastern X-zone habitats.

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