December 30, 2012 in Outdoors

2012: Drought has big impact on wildlife, outdoor recreation

By The Spokesman-Review
Associated Press photo

Smoke from a wildfire near White Salmon, Wash., is visible from the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore., on Sept. 6.
(Full-size photo)

Drought had direct and indirect impacts on wildlife and outdoor recreation in 2012.

The most obvious issues were the flames that forced rafters off the Salmon River and hikers, campers and hunters out of popular areas such as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Meanwhile, smoke choked families out of homes from Wenatchee to Grand Coulee.

The summer of 2012 started out pretty well for Northwest forests. A moist spring kept Idaho mountains green while Colorado battled dry conditions and devastating wildfires.

But by August, one of the hottest and driest summers on record had left the region’s forests ready to burn. Fires scorched more than 1.7 million acres of forest and grasslands in Idaho, the highest total since 2007.

In Montana, fires charred more than 1 million acres, the worst season since 1910.

Costs of fighting fires were staggering. The total for controlling just one of the fires – the 23,000-acre, human-caused Taylor Bridge Fire near Cle Elum – was more than $11 million.

Thunderstorms ignited fires at high and low elevations, including the Apache Pass Fire that spread over 24,531 acres south of Creston after erupting on Sept. 9. The fire charred 1,069 acres of the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area, including some important habitat for sage and sharp-tailed grouse.

Farther south, the Cache Creek Fire along the Snake River, mostly in Oregon, burned more than 5,300 acres of the 14,000-acre Chief Joseph Wildlife Area in Asotin County south of the Grande Ronde River.

The combination of drought and higher grain prices also had an indirect impact on wildlife by encouraging more farmers to bail out of the Conservation Reserve Program that’s provided wildlife habitat across the West.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email