|Wildlife in Northern Nevada may be faced with dire living circumstances this coming fall and winter. Over the past three years, wildfires in Nevada have destroyed almost three million acres of critical wildlife habitat.
This year, fires in hunt areas in Humboldt, Elko, Lander and Pershing counties have destroyed almost 500,000 acres of wildlife habitat that support a variety of wildlife species, including mule deer, sage grouse, chukar, and many other non-game species of birds, mammals and reptiles.
This tremendous loss of habitat may cause some serious problems for wildlife this coming fall, winter and spring. NDOW biologist Ken Gray estimates that in Area 6 alone, which covers western Elko County, 90 percent of critical winter mule deer habitat has been lost to wildfires. Historically, this area once supported the largest deer herd in the state, with numbers ranging up to 35,000 animals in the 1950s and '60s. Current deer population levels in this area are estimated at around 15,000 animals. "With even a moderate winter, like the winter of 1988, we may experience moderate to high fawn loss next spring. If we experience a severe winter, like 1992-93, we could potentially lose 50% of this herd," Gray stated.
Other species that will face severe hardships are sage grouse and chukar populations. Since sage grouse are dependent upon sagebrush ecosystems, they face tremendous impacts from these fires. The fires have removed much of the sagebrush that is the primary food for the grouse. Without this important shrub species, grouse may not be able to find enough food and shelter to survive the winter.
Chukar face a similar situation. While there may still be water in many of the burned areas, much of the food they subsist on has been removed. Sportsmen may still find birds in their favorite hunting grounds, but numbers will likely be reduced from those of last year, and may dwindle further throughout the fall and winter. In fact, two survey plots used to establish trends for chukar populations were lost in the fires. The upper Rock Creek transect and Sheep transect were destroyed during the Midas area fires.
In the Santa Rosa Mountains north of Winnemucca, similar conditions exist. The Upper Willow fire burned more than 40,000 acres, burning from Willow Creek to Windy Gap. The fire destroyed much of the critical sage and shrub component of the habitat. Additionally, the fire burned through cottonwood stands associated with the many creeks and drainages throughout the area.
In the upper basins of the area, fire destroyed many of the prolific aspen stands and most of the shrubs in the mid to upper slopes. This loss of habitat may prove to be critical to wildlife through the fall, winter and spring.
As in Area 6, sportsmen may still find game in the burned areas, but these critters will have a difficult time making it through the fall and winter with the attendant reduction in food supplies and thermal protection from the elements.
Species that may be impacted in the Santa Rosa Mountains include mule deer, sage grouse, chukar, California bighorn sheep, and multiple other small mammals, birds and reptiles.
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