The wildfires in northern Saskatchewan have been burning since late May, leaving forests charred and barren, and forcing wildlife to find new homes.
Animals like elk, deer, moose and bears have the instinct to get ahead of the forest fire before it’s too late, says Darrell Crabbe, executive director of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation. They migrate to habitats that can provide them the food and shelter they need, and in this case, many have been moving south.
“It does create those islands of habitat that will protect them. We usually get a high concentration of animals there, and it might take them the rest of the summer or fall before they can disperse out of there,” Crabbe said.
Lyle Saigeon, executive director of the Fish and Wildlife branch of the Ministry of Environment, said he hasn’t heard of any situations where there has been a large number of animals in a particular area of the province.
A photo of an elk. Submitted by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation
However, Crabbe said he’s heard from people in Candle Lake, for example, who have reported a noticeable increase in animals in the provincial park just south of the evacuation zone. Organizers of the Ness Creek Music Festival northeast of Big River said they’re reminding people to keep food in their vehicles after an increase in bear sightings in the area.
But there doesn’t appear to be any concerns about predatory animals at this time, Crabbe said, adding most of them are in survival mode and concerned about finding a safe spot to stay put.
“Animals will typically try to flee to lakes or rivers where they know they can take refuge, but of course smaller animals have a tough time making it to a safe place,” Saigeon said.
Crabbe said many nesting birds and slow-moving amphibians will have died in the fires. He’s also concerned about at-risk species like caribou, who live in “old forest” areas that Crabbe said are usually the first to burn.
“They probably would make it out but I don’t know where would they go from there, because there’s not a lot of old forest left across Canada. So it’s going to be difficult for them to find that; they’d either have to adjust to a different type of habitat or they’ll have some issues as we go forward,” he said.
It takes about two to three years for a forest destroyed by fire to regenerate to the point where animals can move back in. Crabbe said the effects on wildlife and their migration patterns won’t be fully known until fall.
“The majority of them are pretty adept at getting out of the way of fires. They’ve been doing it for a long time and their populations have always come back from these types of events.”
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