A Smithers, B.C., wildlife rehabilitation facility has seen how disastrous wildfire seasons have impacted wildlife in the past and is preparing to welcome displaced animals as fires rage across the province.
“Wildlife will be displaced. There will also be a lot of animals that will be dying because of the fires,” said Angelika Langen, executive director of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society.
Langen said they recently took in an orphaned bear cub to its facility near the edge of a wildfire, adding they will never truly know how the cub got separated from its mother.
“In many cases, we will never know if it was the fire or not. There will be just more orphans that need our help,” she said.
WILDLIFE DESPERATE FOR FOOD
So far this season, more than 1.7 million hectares have been scorched, according to the BC Wildfire Service.
Flames have destroyed habitats and food sources.
“Some of the First Nations I partner with have found that deer, for example, are having to eat things like poison ivy or juniper, plants that don’t have a lot of nutrition for them, but they’re really stressed and really looking for food in these burned areas,” said Sarah Dickson-Hoyle, a postdoctoral research fellow with the UBC Faculty of Forestry.
Wildlife have also been contending with the impacts of a persistent drought, she said
“We’re seeing a lot of the berry plants, for example, are not actually producing berries,” Dickson-Hoyle explained.
With the loss of habitats and scarcity of natural foods, Langen warns humans may be seeing more wildlife.
“You will be seeing a lot more wildlife in your neighborhood, probably than you usually do. Be mindful of that interfering with it; feeding it is not a solution, because it can create more problems,” Langen said.
“People should really educate themselves how to react when they run into a bear and what to do and what not to do,” she added.
21 BEARS KILLED IN PRINCE GEORGE
Prince George has seen a spike of bear conflicts this month.
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service has recorded more than 1,200 human-bear conflicts so far this month.
As a result of these conflicts, 21 bears were killed.
“We understand that this is distressing news for many people, including our conservation officers. We must reiterate that these deaths are largely preventable,” a spokesperson for the service wrote in a statement, stressing that people need to secure attractants and not feed wildlife.
The BC COS also said it is too soon determine whether the wildfires played a role in the apparent spike.
The Ministry of Forests said it continues to look into the impact of the wildfires on wildlife.
“Ministry experts continue to assess habitat conditions in wildfire-affected areas in order to determine the extent of habitat impacts and to support possible management actions. Wildlife needs will be considered and addressed in all wildfire rehabilitation activities, as well as in future timber harvest and silviculture decisions within the burn areas,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email.
The ministry noted that historically, wildfires have been beneficial to wildlife because it prompts the growth of better foliage.
But with climate change, the size and intensity of these wildfires are unlike anything seen before, which means the impact is much more difficult to predict.