Disaster relief teams are fired up and burned out by hellish summer
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2000:
HAMILTON, Montana––With at least five national
animal disaster relief teams now on the job, and increasingly
well-prepared local disaster relief plans covering most of the
more populated portions of the U.S., members of the United
Animal Nations’ Emergency Animal Services entered August
feeling a bit like Maytag repairmen: nobody calling, nothing
much to do except hold more seminars to train more help to
assist the 3,400 UAN-trained volunteers already available to
respond when all hell breaks loose.
”There have been no disasters where we were needed
so far,” UAN president Jeanne Westin remarked to ANIMAL
PEOPLE on August 7.
Thirteen western states were gripped by some of the
hottest droughts in years––but neither UAN nor any of the other
national animal rescue outfits do rainmaking.
The American Humane Association’s 82-foot Animal
Planet Rescue van, under disaster relief coordinator Nick
Gilman and incident commander Dick Green, DVM, was
much closer than UAN to the scene of the Cerro Grande fires
that in mid-May ravaged 48,000 acres around Los Alamos,
New Mexico. Thus it was the AHA team who joined the Santa
Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, New Mexico
Horseman’s Association, North Valley Animal Clinic, and
Petroglyph Animal Hospital to help cope there.
The biggest animal-related headache in and around
Los Alamos, however, may have been endured by Espanola
Animal Shelter manager Diane London, who reportedly
accepted 20 animals from people who had to flee their homes
during the first two days of the fire, and then had 35 dogs and
11 cats to place in foster homes on the third day, when the
flames menaced the shelter itself.
The worst heartbreak may have been left to Kathleen
Ramsay of the Espanola Wildlife Center, who for weeks was
kept busy euthanizing badly burned Abert squirrels, rock squirrels,
chipmunks, skunks, and other animals who survived
their initial injuries but usually had no chance of surviving the
dehydration, hunger, and infections they suffered afterward.
Some animals had better prospects, including a
young male raccoon nicknamed Tuffy, who was treated for a
burned mouth, paws, and legs, and released near Carlsbad.
Ten weeks after the Cerro Grande fires were finally
put out, an estimated 200 domestic pets remained missing, Los
Alamos Animal Control estimated.
Nuisance wildlife relocators Bob and Cathy Anderson
captured and rehomed 27 cats, also finding 65 wild animals
who were taken to Ramsay.
The AHA was again closest to the scene––indeed,
almost within the danger zone––when the Hi Meadow fire
raged near Bailey and Estes Park in mid-June. But Park and
Jefferson County authorities reportedly refused AHA help until
after Denver Post staff writer Trent Seibert described the situation
in print. Jefferson County animal control officers were left
on their own to evacuate 80 horses from the path of the fire.
Got the call
UAN was at last summoned on August 9, when 87
different fires erupted almost at once in the Bitterroots region of
western Montana, burning 600,000 acres. Another 11 fires
blazing simultaneously in 10 other states raised total fire losses
for the month to more than 1.3 million acres, according to the
National Internagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Hamilton, Montana, became temporary base for the
regional animal rescue effort. Cancelling the Ravalli County
Fair, the fair directors allowed UAN-EARS director Terri
Crisp and volunteers, including local 4-H club members, to
convert the grounds into a sort of Noah’s Ark on too-dry land.
The menagerie continually changed with the winds,
as some people were able to reclaim their animals and go home
while others had to flee, but the total number of animals in custody
hovered for several days at about 325. Among them at
various times were reportedly 18 dogs, 44 cats, 68 horses, 55
goats, 18 cows, 120 chickens, 11 quail, four pigs, four
alpacas, a llama, a bull, 46 rabbits including one with a broken
leg, 13 ducks, and a wolf.
The Bitterroot Humane Association shelter in
Hamilton, built to house 86 animals, hit peak capacity with
190 evacuated animals in custody, along with 40 dogs and cats
who were already there when the fires broke out.
The Critters For Kids animal therapy center near
Kalispel took in about 50 horses and miscellaneous other
Near Wall Mountain, an ad hoc committee of anyone
who happened to be around brought three herds of cattle
totalling between 300 and 400 head out of thick smoke and
With all available hands in Montana, extra help was
scarce when the Jasper Fire raced over 64,900 acres in the
Black Hills National Forest at the end of August. Rancher Ray
Kieffer of Union Center had about 200 cattle right in harm’s
way, in Lemming Draw, but had no way to get them out. The
best he could do, Kieffer told Tena Haraldson of Associated
Press, was sleep nearby in his pickup truck, ready to cut fences
if necessary so that they could all run for their lives.
Instead the flames jumped the draw. At least 140 cattle
survived unharmed, and the rest were believed to have been
moved to safety earlier by a neighbor.
Smokey of the Rockies
A starving 20-pound bear cub with burned paws, discovered
in a tree by Paul Ricard of Darby, Montana, became a
symbol of survival reminiscent of the legendary Smokey.
Captured by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden Sgt. Joe
Jaquith, the bear was evacuated to Helena in a mobile dog kennel,
to receive emergency treatment from Hans Boer, DVM.
The bear apparently survived without his missingand-unaccounted-for
mother as long as he did only because he
was stranded near a small stream, Jaquith said, from which he
could drink, with a deer carcass nearby that offered some food.
The original Smokey, rescued by firefighters in the
Capitan Mountains of New Mexico in 1950, spent the rest of
his life at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
Contrary to popular belief, he was not the inspiration
for the cartoon bear used by the U.S. Forest Service to promote
the message that, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” The cartoon
bear, rather, gave the real Smokey his name, and then the
existence of a real Smokey helped in turn to popularize the cartoon
The Montana bear was dubbed “Smokey of the
Rockies” by news media, despite objections about trademarks
from Bitterroot National Forest information officer Cass Cairns.
But Jaquith was adamant that he wasn’t going to end
up in a zoo.
“He’s going to be a wild bear if I have anything to do
with it,” Jaquith said.
Sightings of a lone doe pronghorn in the Bitterroot
foothils between Lolo and Florence, miles north and west of
any known herds, had experts speculating how she got
there––as a fire refugee? As an escapee from a hunting ranch?
Whatever the case, some burnt former forest will be
grassland during the coming years, until new forest gets started,
giving pronghorn a chance to establish themselves in the
Bitterroots for the first time in more than a century.
Post-fire escapes of animals from game farms with
burned fences were of high concern to the Montana Department
of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and Department of Livestock,
after the discovery last fall of a brain ailment among captivereared
elk in Montana which resembles “mad cow disease.”
Especially vulnerable to escape was the Big Velvet
Ranch, south of Darby, with up to 880 elk. Fires swept about
3,000 acres of the 5,000-acre ranch. Other elk ranches, located
near Eureka and Townsend, were also hit. In each case the
ranchers claimed their elk were all accounted for.
Apart from mad cow disease, Montana cattle ranchers
are anxious about grass competition from elk on the depleted
range. And, if the experience of Yellowstone National Park
after the wildfires of 1988 is any indication, elk will be the
main beneficiaries of the forest regrowth cycle. Deer and coyotes
could also prosper.
Of short-term benefit to wildlife, much of western
Montana and Wyoming were closed to early-season hunting
due to the continuing fire hazard.
Bureau of Land Management senior biologist Signe
Sather-Blair warned meanwhile that more than 70% of the Big
Desert region of south-central Idaho has burned since 1996,
including about 450,000 acres of sage grouse habitat. Sage
grouse numbers, accordingly, are down 50%-80%.
The sage grouse needs sagebrush to survive, but
because fires have consumed all the sagebrush that used to be
there, including the seeds, non-native cheatgrass is taking
over. Humans can pull the cheatgrass and plant sagebrush,
Sather-Blair said, but at cost of about $60 an acre. The minimum
cost of restoring the habitat would be circa $27 million.
The BLM responded, as it tends to respond to most
western droughts, by declaring an urgent need to round up wild
horses. The BLM had already removed about 2,500 horses
from the range in Nevada and Utah before the August wildfires.
BLM wild horse and burro program chief Lee
Delaney said that the agency would probably remove another
4,000 horses by year’s end, chiefly from Utah, Nevada,
California, and Oregon.
Late August wildfires also burned 50,000 acres of
forested highlands in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in
central Brazil; 36,000 acres of savannah in Serra da Canastra
National Park in southern Brazil; 24,000 acres on the
Mediterranean island of Corsica; and woodlands from the
Albanian border to southern Arcadia province in Greece.
The Brazilian fires menaced the habitat of about a
third of all animal species native to Brazil, including the rare
At least one Arcadian fire was reportedly set by shepherds
trying to clear grazing land