A quarterly newsletter highlighting the work and accomplishments of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish revived the historic name, “The Conservationist,” for our newsletter to showcase the excellent conservation work our dedicated professionals do in the field of wildlife management. Conservation, often misconstrued as preservation, is the wise use of our resources. The Department is dedicated to the long-term well-being of New Mexico’s fish and wildlife and the benefit to the people of this great state. It is our Mission, to provide and maintain an adequate supply of wildlife and fish within the state of New Mexico by utilizing a flexible management system that provides for their protection, conservation, regulation, propagation, and for their use as public recreation and food supply. August 2012 l Vol. 1 No. 3 Wildfires and N.M. fish, wildlife Photos: Blake Swanson, above; Rourke McDermott, left Elk began moving into the burn area months after the 2011 Las Conchas Fire. TABLE OF CONTENTS l Director’s View .............. Page 2 l Fish and wildfire ............ Page 4 l Track Fire recovery ........ Page 5 l Little Bear Fire help......... Page 6 l Whitewater-Baldy Fire.....Page 7 l Events Calendar ............. Page 9 Department addresses impacts on state’s bird, big-game populations By Donald Auer New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Habitat Projects Coordinator N ew Mexico has experienced several large, destructive wildfires in the past decade, including two of the largest ever in the state. Each of those fires had significant effects on the state’s wildlife. Fire and upland game birds New Mexico is home to nine species of upland game birds (Galliforms) found in habitats ranging from Chihuahuan desert (Gambel’s and scaled quail) to coniferous forests (dusky grouse). The effect of fire on these species varies with respect to fire intensity, time, and the interaction between these variables and rainfall. . . . continued on Page 3 Page 2 l The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST Director’s View The greatest (conservation) story never told New Mexico Department of Game and Fish James S. Lane Jr. Director Dan Brooks Deputy Director R. J. Kirkpatrick Assistant Director for Resources Patrick Block Assistant Director for Support Services By Jim Lane New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Director firstname.lastname@example.org H Hunting in New Mexico is far different today than it was a century ago when New Mexico became a state. Back then, elk recovery was just beginning. The reintroduction of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was still decades away. No wildlife agency in the United States knew how to trap and transplant antelope and some of our fisheries were in shambles. Today, we have elk in every suitable mountain range in the state, and many places no one thought they could thrive. We have Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in all of our high alpine habitats and desert bighorn sheep (once endangered)are now being hunted throughout their range. We have wild turkeys in growing populations across the state. Our hatcheries continue to provide fish for some of the best trout fishing found in the world. Many folks take the fish and wildlife of the state for granted and assume their state tax dollars are used to manage the resource. The truth could not be further from that assumption. The Department currently receives no General Fund appropriations. The game and nongame fish and wildlife management successes we all enjoy are directly correlated to the license dollars provided by people who hunt, fish and trap in New Mexico. Those same license holders and others also fund wildlife management and recovery through excise taxes that fund the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. When you buy a new rifle or shotgun, or ammunition and fishing gear, you pay excise taxes that fund WSFR. You won’t see it on your receipt, because those taxes are collected at the manufacturer level. The Treasury Department Mike Sloane Fisheries Management Jim Lane with wife, Beth, son Christian and daughter Allison. then turns that money over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which distributes the money to states and territories. About one third of the budget of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish comes from the WSFR Program. The money is used for all aspects of the Department’s operation that are directly related to continued conservation of all wildlife, fisheries and the habitat on which they depend. WSFR monies also fund hunter and conservation education classes across the state. The USER PAY = EVERYONE BENEFITS system that shooters, hunters, anglers and trappers pay into each year has resulted in the most successful model of wildlife conservation in the world. Through your purchases, the state conservation machine of wildlife management will continue into the future, run by dedicated managers devoted to preserving our wildlife heritage. Great things have been accomplished during the last 75 years. With your continued support, the next 75 years will be just as fantastic. The next time you enjoy the sound of a bull elk bugling in a meadow, see a peregrine falcon in a canyon or a trout swimming in a stream, thank a fishing, hunting or trapping license holder. If you are one of those license holders, I thank you. If you are not, I encourage you to become a part of the greatest conservation machine in history by buying a license. Thanks for all you do for conservation. Warmest regards, Cal Baca Wildlife Management Matt Wunder Conservation Services Martin Frentzel Public Information and Outreach Alexa Sandoval Administrative Services Sonya Quintana Human Resources Ray Aaltonen Southwest Area Operations Chris Neary Northeast Area Operations Leon Redman Southeast Area Operations State Game Commission Jim McClintic Albuquerque Tom Arvas Albuquerque Bill Montoya Alto Robert Espinoza Sr. Farmington Scott Bidegain Tucumcari Thomas “Dick” Salopek Las Cruces Paul Kienzle Albuquerque Volume 1, Number 2 The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Newsletter is published by the Public Information and Outreach Division, N.M. Department of Game and Fish. Contact The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for permission to reprint content. Printed in the United States under contract with the State of New Mexico. Marty Frentzel Chief, Public Information and Outreach Division Lance Cherry Chief of Publications Letters may be sent to: N.M. Department of Game and Fish P.O. Box 25112 Santa Fe, NM 87504-5112 Telephone (505) 476-8000 email@example.com Jim Please visit our website, www.wildlife.state.nm.us Wildfires The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST l Page 3 Continued from Page 1 . . . Generally, upland game-bird population dynamics are sensitive to annual productivity. Productivity is driven in part by the amount and structure of habitat available. Initially, the impacts of wildfire may be negative due to reduced nesting and broodrearing cover. However, over time the disturbance caused by fire has potential to have positive impacts on upland game-bird populations because grasses and forbs that provide these habitat components tend to increase in response to the initial reduction in vegetation. Big fires and big game In the Southwest, big-game populations have existed with fire for thousands of years. Although every wildfire burns a different amount of acreage with different intensities, the Wildlife Management Division does not expect to see big-game population declines due directly to the large wildfires in New Mexico over the last few years. At a population level, large animals such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bears and cougars are able to escape the direct impacts of fire, such as flame and smoke, and any negative influences of fire on big game are short-lived. Animals may temporarily move into unburned habitat on the perimeter of the fire and into unburned interior pockets until new vegetation growth occurs. In general, wildfires throughout the West have enhanced habitat conditions for big game. Research has indicated that fire increases the amount and distribution of preferred forage for big game, leading to an increase in the nutritional quality of ungulate diets (Hobbs and Spowart 1984). Post Photo: Blake Swanson The 2011 Las Conchas Fire burned in a mosaic pattern in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, improving wildlife habitat in many areas. examination of the large 1988 wildfires in Yellowstone National Park that burned nearly 800,000 acres found that winter habitat use by ungulates was greater in burned versus unburned areas. This increase in use continued at least four years post-burn (Pearson et al 1995). In addition, research from Arizona on fires within ponderosa pine forests found an initial avoidance of burned areas for up to two years, but then a two- to ten-fold increase in use of burned areas for up to seven years (Lowe et al 1978). Concordantly, examination of the aftermath of the Rodeo-Chediski wildfire in Arizona indicated preference for burned versus unburned areas of radio-collared elk (Bristow and Cunningham 2010). Many factors influence the dynamics of ungulate populations. Fire can alter soil, hydrological and vegetation characteristics of wildlife habitat. These changes can increase the amount and distribution of nutritious forage for big game, including grasses, forbs and shrubs. Although every fire is different, most fires burn in a mosaic pattern (a mixture of unburned and burned acreage, with varying burn intensities), thereby increasing the diversity and health of big-game habitat across the landscape. Bristow, K. and Cunningham, S. 2010. Female Elk Habitat Use after the RodeoChediski Fire in Northeast Arizona. In C. van Ripper III, B. F. Wakeling, and T. D. Sisk (eds.), The Colorado Plateau IV, Shaping Conservation through Science and Management, pp. 277-291. The University of Arizona Press. Hobbs, N.T. and R. A. Spowart. 1984. Effects of prescribed fire on nutrition of mountain sheep and mule deer during winter and spring. J. of Wildlife Management, 48(2): 551-560. Lowe, P.O., P.F. Ffolliott, J.H. Dieterich, and D.R. Patton. 1978. Determining potential benefits from wildfire in Arizona ponderosa pine forests. Aspen Bibliography. Paper 7097. Pearson S.M., M.G. Turner, L.L. Wallace, and W.H. Romme. 1995. Winter habitat use by large ungulates following fire in Yellowstone National Park. Ecological Applications, 5(3):744-755. Page 4 l The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST Fish populations struggle after fires Viveash Fire of 2000, Polvadera Creek following the South Fork Fire of 2010, and Gila Trout from Spruce Creek in the aftermath of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire of this year. Our success at maintaining wild fish in a hatchery environment is limited, so salvage is not generally a viable alternative unless there is an unaffected stream to release them into rapidly. By Richard Hansen Assistant Chief of Fisheries F ire is a fact of life in the Southwest. It is no different for our fisheries resources. We have seen no fewer than 15 watersheds affected by wildfires in the last two years. Flooding, channel modification and fish kills are the most obvious damage following fires, but fire related impacts can be fairly complex. Fisheries populations experience both acute and chronic stressors following a wildfire. Acute stressors are those that directly affect the fish and include sediment transport due to rapid erosion of burned hillsides, oxygen deprivation due to increased organic loads in streams, and rapid changes in water chemistry due to ash. These impacts are generally greatest during the initial monsoon season following a fire. During runoff events and subsequent fish kills, the public often becomes concerned and reports seeing dead fish. This is also when we are asked what we are going to do about things. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing we can do and no way to evaluate the severity of the situation for several months. Chronic stressors do not result directly in fish kills, but reduce the ability of a system to support a fishable population. Chronic stressors can affect a fishery for years after a wildfire. Water chemistry can vary greatly for two to three years following the burn. The stream channel continues to Department file photo Department of Game and Fish and U.S. Forest Service biologists worked to salvage native cutthroat trout from Polvadera Creek after the 2010 South Fork Fire. evolve until the watershed stabilizes with the establishment of vegetation and equilibrium of sediment transport. Channel instability inhibits primary productivity and recolonization of macroinvertebrates, limiting food sources for fish. Recovery from these factors can take as long as 10 years depending on the severity of the burn. It is during this period that we can make a useful evaluation of the damage our fishery has suffered. Our reaction to fire varies. In the case of sensitive species such as Rio Grande cutthroat trout, we may try to salvage some of the fish before monsoon rains strike. With cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we have attempted salvages of Rio Grande Cutthroat trout from Cow Creek following the If the fishery was one we manage with put-and-take stocking, we can likely re-establish angling opportunity within a year or so. Catchable rainbow trout do not tend to persist in the environment, and shifting conditions due to the aftereffects of the fire have limited influence on the fishery. We have applied this management strategy to sections of the Rio San Antonio and East Fork of the Jemez following the Las Conchas fire of 2011. Most of the waters affected by wildfires are wild trout waters. Typically these streams are inaccessible to our trucks and stocking with hatchery fish is not a practical alternative. In most cases, the wild fish are not completely killed and they will re-establish on their own within a couple of years. Occasionally we will get a complete kill within a stream/watershed. Examples include Capulin Creek in the Jemez Mountains following the Dome and Cerro Grande fires, and Pine Lodge Creek in the Capitans following a 2004 fire. Complete fish kills can be a blessing in disguise. In both of those examples, we introduced Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations and increased their range. Unfortunately, the Las Conchas fire of 2011 appears to have wiped out the Capulin population, but we are working toward repatriation of cutthroats into that stream and about six others affected by fires in 2011 and 2012. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST l Page 5 The June 2011 Track Fire near Raton burned 27,792 acres, including Sugarite Canyon State Park. A year later, new growth was springing up in burned areas, below. Photos: Clint Henson Habitat recovering after Track Fire By Clint Henson Northeast Area Information Officer I understand when people drive through a burn area that they feel sad because it doesn’t look like it used to, and for many years, or perhaps our lifetime, it will look differently. Blackened trees stand as tombstones that are reminders of that event. But how many of those people get out of the car and walk around in that “devastated” landscape. If more people took hikes and saw the transformation, it might change their minds about a fire being a bad event. Now don’t get me wrong, fire can be very destructive and I hate to see homes burn in a forest fire, but I think that the public’s attitude toward fire is off base. Smokey Bear continues to do a great job in showing the devastation of wildfires, but I have been a wild-land firefighter for six years and a wildlife biologist for 16 and my perspective of fire is very different than Smokey’s. When you walk through Sugarite Canyon State Park, one year after the Track Fire, you see the most amazing display of new growth and diversity. Light now reaches the forest floor and old forest litter has become nutrientrich soil. Browse species such as gamble oak, mountain mahogany and even aspen trees are now available to deer and elk. There will be a much larger acorn crop in the coming years, which will help pull bears off of Raton dumpsters. Burned trees will become snags that will be home to birds, bugs and a food source for woodpeckers. Sugarite was fortunate in that last year’s rains, after the fire, were gentle and the snow melt was slow. This gave forage the ability to grow and stabilize the soil so there was little erosion from the burn area. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish worked with Sugarite Canyon State Park and the City of Raton to protect the wildlife, habitat and Raton’s water supply during and after the fire. That work continues as forest conditions improve. Now is a great time to visit Sugarite Canyon State Park. The fish have been biting and it is a great place to “take a hike”! Wildlife and New Mexico forest ecosystems evolved with fire. Only in the past 80 years have humans been so successful in suppressing this natural, and very needed force. Fires provide a diverse habitat that is vital to sustaining a healthy, natural ecosystem. Consider the good of the rebirth of the forest, not just the loss of the trees. Page 6 l The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST Department lends a hand near Ruidoso By Mark Madsen Game Department officers manned roadblocks and assisted property owners during this year’s Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso. Southeast Area Information Officer T he Little Bear Fire was started by lightning June 4 in rough terrain near Ski Apache northwest of Ruidoso. The fire was suppressed at about 100 acres until high winds caused it to jump containment lines, resulting in approximately 44, 330 acres being burned. Most of the terrain burned consisted of mixed-conifer habitat within the White Mountain Wilderness. Unfortunately, in those areas affected by the fire outside of the wilderness, 234 structures were lost -- 224 homes and 10 out-buildings. Department of Game and Fish personnel were directly and indirectly involved in the fire-assistance efforts. Alamogordo Supervisory District officers assisted with evacuations along with other law enforcement agencies during the early stages of the fire, including notifying residents of evacuations and then marking properties where contacts were made. Department officers also collected information from individuals who refused to leave their homes and reported that information to the incident command post manned by the Lincoln County Sheriff ’s office. As the fire activity continued, Department officers, including office staff and officers from other Photo: Mark Madsen supervisory districts, assisted with manning roadblocks to restrict access into and out of the burned areas. Department personnel were exclusively responsible for manning one roadblock 24 hours a day for three days during the fire. Department officers also patrolled evacuated areas to insure that no one was in the areas. As fire activity slowed, Department officers assisted other law enforcement agencies with escorting individuals to their residences to retrieve medications, attend to livestock or other emergency situations. One officer rescued a dog that evidently had jumped out of the owner’s truck during evacuations. That dog was successfully returned to its owner in Capitan. Department personnel continue to work with the local media, answering questions about the fire’s effects on wildlife and wildlife habitat, including participating in public meetings about the Little Bear Fire. During the height of the fire activity, more than 1,100 personnel were actively fighting the fire. Numerous air-tankers and helicopters were also used to contain the fire. The Little Bear Fire completely burned the area around Bonito Lake, resulting in concerns about the integrity of the lake and dam. The City of Alamogordo immediately started lowering the water level at the lake in preparation for the monsoons and associated runoff. Some heavy rainfall has fallen on the burn scar, resulting in localized flash flooding and mudslides. Department and Forest Service biologists will be monitoring Bonito Lake to determine the effects of the burn and associated ash and debris runoff on the fishery at the lake. Chances are that the trout fishery at Bonito Lake will take a several years to recover. Recovery and reclamation efforts are under way in the Little Bear Burn area. The Forest Service started aerial reseeding efforts in many areas of the burn scar shortly after the fire was contained. Crews are also working diligently on debris removal from the Bonito and Eagle Creek drainages in the burn area. Monsoonal rainfall will hopefully result in a timely regrowth of the reseeded areas and other areas of the Little Bear Fire. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST l Page 7 Recovering from Whitewater-baldy By Richard McDonald Southwest Area Information Officer A s we approach the fall hunting seasons, everyone is wondering what impacts the Gila fires will have on wildlife and their habitats. As of July 26, the Whitewater-Baldy fire, the largest in New Mexico history, was estimated at 300,000 acres and still smoldering at 95 percent contained. Upon first glance, the landscape hit by the fire looks charred, destroyed, even decimated in areas. One might ask how the forest can ever recover from an event like this. When looked upon by a wildlife biologist, optimism and excitement are in full swing. As fire burns through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, sunlight is allowed to reach the forest floor. This in turn allows a new generation of seedlings to sprout. These new green sprouts will prove to be rich in nutrients that in turn will help animals flourish. Trees will grow back less dense, providing more tasty grasses and forbs. Recovering plants will provide more fruits, berries, acorns and other tasty morsels. The green, as we call it, also will aid in antler growth and development. According to Ryan Whiteaker, Regional Fire Planner for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, wildfire can have immediate and drastic impacts on the landscape. “Approximately 70 percent of fire can be positive, while it’s important Photo: Storm Usrey Willow Creek felt the full force of this year’s Whitewater-Baldy Fire. to react to fires quickly and establish a plan with the goal of recovery in mind,” Whiteaker says. His agency, along with United States Forest Service and other entities have started to implement recovery efforts to help the forest get back to its full potential. Agencies will plant thousands of seeds, build waddles, and lay down rows of tires along with bushels of straw in an attempt to slow the erosion process. bear and elk that were lost in the fire.” Whiteaker says deep, intense burns such as Whitewater-Baldy can help renew the soil by burning dead or decaying matter. Fire also can act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects that injure trees and other flora. “To look for wildlife in low- to medium-intensity burn areas after it receives some moisture,” Gehrt says. “These areas will green up quick with luscious grass and browse.” As far as impacts to the wildlife, it’s hard to say just yet. According to Reserve District Wildlife Officer Casey Gehrt, “There have been few reports of For the most part, wildlife move out of the way of fires. They don’t move off too far and it’s common to see them back in burned areas shortly after the fire has moved on or died out. It’s important to understand that wildlife tend to adapt really well to conditions and often come back stronger after an event like this. No doubt a lot of wildlife was displaced by the fires this year, but if you look close enough beyond the trees, I would bet you will see a fair share of animals taking advantage of that nutritious green candy. Page 8 l The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST Fish, big game returning after Las Conchas Fire By Ross Morgan T One of the areas impacted by the fire was the Valles Caldera National Preserve. “The biggest impact that the preserve is experiencing is the short-term impact on the fishery,” said Dennis Trujillo, executive director of the preserve. “Ninety-five percent of the fish population was killed when ash and debris washed into the streams after flash floods in the area.” In an effort to assist the preserve with the fish kill, the Department of Game and Fish has been working closely with preserve staff stocking fish back into the east fork of the Jemez River. Trujillo said the preserve definitely will see a long-term benefit from the fire, as they are already starting to see new aspen and grass growth through much of the area that was burned. Knowing that the Bandelier National Monument was hit hard by the fire, a crew was sent in to survey the Rito de Los Frijoles stream for fish survival. During this survey, department A big thank you from Lincoln Co. As crisis brought on by the Little Bear Fire wanes, I wanted to take the time to say a big thank you for all of the help and resources your office brought to the table to battle this fire. Lincoln County, its residents, and the Lincoln County Sheriff ’s Office, in particular, are grateful for the efforts put forth by the New Mexico Game and Fish office in general and your office. So thank you and know we appreciate all you did. Northwest Area Information Officer he Las Conchas fire, the state’s largest fire at the time, started June 26, 2011. The fire was ignited after a tree fell on a power line just across from the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. The fire consumed more than 156,000 acres of federal, state and private lands. Although the fire consumed many acres of habitat, there were a lot of places it cleared thick undergrowth, generating a healthier landscape. LETTERS Photo: Blake Swanson A mule deer buck browses on new growth sprouted since the 2011 Las Conchas Fire in the Jemez Mountains. Sincerely yours, R.E. Virden, Sheriff Robert L. Shepperd, Undersheriff fisheries biologists and Forest Service personnel learned that monsoongenerated floods that followed the fire washed ash and debris down the stream, killing all the fish. “This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Northwest Area fisheries manager Rick Castell. “Now the department, along with the Park Service, can monitor the stream for a few years until it has made a full recovery and restock it with the state’s native cutthroat trout.” Implementation of the Burned Area Emergency Response began at the end of July 2011, when aerial seeding was applied to 5,200 acres and aerial mulching was applied to 1,100 acres. There also were 117 cultural sites that were identified and treated by hand. Now, more than a year later, much of the area that was burned has recovered and is once again providing forage for wildlife. Photo: Clint Henson Conservation officers Colin Duff, left, and Shawn Denny manned a roadblock during the Little Bear Fire. Police chief praises conservation officer You should be proud of Donald Jaramillo. He is representing your agency to the fullest extent and possesses all the traits associated with excellence. Dan Robb, Police Chief City of Belen Police Department Page 9 l The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish CONSERVATIONIST 2012 DEPARTMENT EVENTS CALENDAR August November New Mexico Outdoor Expo Aug. 18-19 10 a.m. â€“ 4 p.m. City of Albuquerque Shooting Range State Park Albuquerque Contact: Jennifer Morgan Hunter Education Program (505) 222-4731 State Game Commission Meeting Nov. 1 Raton www.wildlife.state.nm.us State Game Commission Meeting Aug. 23 Rio Rancho www.wildlife.state.nm.us September Photo: Dan Williams A net full of fun Espanola District Officer Ben Otero got some help stocking trout in Santa Cruz Lake during Free Fishing Day activities June 2. The annual event was sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Game and Fish. Kids Fishing and Outdoor Skills Clinic Sept. 29 Fenton Lake State Park Free Fishing Day www.wildlife.state.nm.us Contact NMDGF (505) 476-8000 Free Fishing Day Sept. 29 No license required Watch Department website for locations and details www.wildlife.state.nm.us Contact: NMDGF (505) 476-8000 Festival of the Cranes Nov. 16-18 Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge Contact: (575) 835-2077 festivalofthecranes.com December State Game Commission Meeting Dec. 13 Lordsburg www.wildlife.state.nm.us See Something Missing? Send your event information to Lance Cherry, firstname.lastname@example.org.