Wildfires, wildlife and the rest of us
Fox injured in the wildfire.
By Sharon Ponsford
After all that Sonoma County, and in particular, our Sonoma Valley, has been through this past month, it would be impossible to write a column just about wildlife. They were definitely impacted by the fires, but so was everything and everyone that lives here. If you are anything like me, you are still trying to get your head around the enormity of the fires. It’s overwhelming. The neighborhood we just moved from in Glen Ellen was hit extremely hard, and our new neighborhood was surrounded by fires during the nine days we were evacuated. As we watched our neighbor’s house three doors away burn down on television, we felt certain that we would lose our house, too. Fortunately we did not, and we will be forever grateful to all those who responded to deal with the fires.
I’ve mentioned in this column before that we lost our house in a wildfire on Cavedale Road 21 years ago. We weren’t home when it started, so were unable to get to our house in time to save anything – including three beloved pets. It was the worst day of my life. During the time we were evacuated last month, those old memories kept flooding back. The photos especially reminded me of our experience – the red and yellow of the fire, followed by nothing but black, white and gray. It was a life-changing event and these fires will be, too. So many friends, neighbors, and acquaintances lost everything in the fires. It’s hard to come up with words to say to them.
Many people have asked me about the effects of the fires on wildlife. I’ve researched this topic before, and most people that work with wildlife don’t know. I went to a symposium for wildlife rehabilitators last month. A speaker from California Department of Fish and Wildlife said that since wild animals have extraordinary senses compared to ours, they sense danger and can get away from it. That’s the official stance. To a certain extent, I believe this is true – but I’m also quite sure that many don’t make it. What I do know for sure is that many wild animals did lose their homes and their food sources. These displaced animals have to find new territory when nothing is left of their former habitat. It is very difficult for them.
Many wild animals will burn their feet in a wildfire. This is tragic, because they will no longer be able to hunt with their paws, and will slowly starve to death. Also, if they are tree climbers, they won’t be able to climb to find shelter. Burns can take a very long time to heal, are very painful and often get infected.
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue took in three burn victims from the fires, one bobcat and two foxes. The bobcat and one fox died. The other fox survived, but it will take weeks for the burns on her pads to heal. It’s a long process, requiring that bandages be changed every day. However, this lucky little fox will eventually be released. Napa Wildlife Rescue took in a Cooper’s Hawk with burned feet and a red throat, as well as three young opossums that were starving, dehydrated and suffering from injuries that may have been related to fire retardant. The hawk was treated and released after a couple of weeks of treatment and the opossums are healing from their injuries and will be released soon.
What can we do to help our wild neighbors? The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has very strict rules when it comes to feeding wildlife. Simply put: don’t do it, even under these extraordinary circumstances. Many people leave water out for wildlife and I think that is a good idea. We can also try to understand the stress and transition wild animals are going through right now. Please be tolerant and realize that these animals are looking for food and shelter in a new environment, and just like us, they have been through a lot. Give them a brake when they are crossing the roads, and when you see a wild animal elsewhere give it plenty of space. Although we don’t yet know the official cause of the fires, we do know they were not caused by lighting. Therefore they were human-caused in one form or another.
It will be a difficult Thanksgiving for most of us this year; however there are many things to be thankful for. As I look out my window toward the scarred Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf, I know that Mother Nature is already working to heal them.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.