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Effects of Williams Fire pose threat to wildlife, homes

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by Melissa Lau
Managing Editor

The Williams Fire, which began Sept. 22, is now 100 percent contained and has burned 37,240 acres. The fire, which burned 72 structures, not only affected human residents of the Angles National Forest and its surrounding areas, but has had an impact on its animal inhabitants.

“Most wildlife can escape the flames,” said Jeffery Burkhart, professor of and Fletcher Jones chair of biology.

Burkhart, who moved last year from Mt. Baldy, is familiar with the wildlife in the area.

He said small animals are able to reach their burrows and larger ones are usually able to run away.

The real problem for animals really lies in the fact that more animals are now packed into smaller areas. They must share limited resources and some may starve.

Also, because they are concentrated in a small area, rather than spread out, some animals will become easier targets as prey.

“There will be less food and more predation,” Burkhart said. “But this is a natural process.”

He said that fires “rejuvenate” the system.

This past summer La Verne, San Dimas and Monrovia residents had a chance to witness a rare sight: bear appearances. These sightings were do to a recent lack of rain, which caused the food sources for the bears to decrease.

Because of the recent fires, sightings like these will probably not be so rare.

“Things like bear problems will increase,” said Burkhart.

In addition to bears, other animals, such as coyotes and deer might also make their way to the city.

According to Burkhart, the chapparell area is described as a fire climax community. This means that fires are natural events that usually begin from a natural cause, such as lightning.

These areas are characterized by hot, dry summers.

Since fires are a natural process for these areas, animals and plants who live there, have adapted to “rebound” after a fire.

This is evident in the plants that resprout from underground.

Recently controversy has surrounded topics in environmental management as to whether or not fires should be allowed to burn.

When an area does not burn for a long amount of time, many things, such as dead plant matter, accumulate.

When it finally does burn, the impact on the area increases. “It takes the system a longer period of time to recover,” Burkhart said.

“It burns much hotter and burns much more intense and kills more things,” he said.

Fires not only bring danger when burning, but the aftermath of a fire is also perilous.

Rain after a fire can bring problems.

The first of these is the possibility of mudslides.

This problem stems from the removal of vegetation from the fires.

Normally, when vegetation is present, it helps the rain to soak into the soil.

However, in the absence of vegetation, the water runs off and is not able to soak into the topsoil.

As a result, the rain water runs to the creeks, which can kill aquatic animals and contribute to mudslides.

This brings about more concerns for homeowners, especially with the chance of El NiƱo making its way to California this winter.

The second issue is that the water will run off to the sea, which means that we

lose water flowing to our water supply.

This will also bring about problems of lack of water for next summer.

For those who are interested in the area, tomorrow, the Biology Department will host a University hike at 7:45 a.m.

They will meet at the parking lot at Mills Ave. and travel up the Claremont Wilderness Trail.

The hike is about five miles, and everyone is welcome to participate.

Participants are asked to bring comfortable shoes.

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