A recent large fire, named the Funny River fire, inside Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has wildlife biologists curious about the moose population in the area. Fires can promote new growth of brush that is a good food source for moose. However, some fire and wildlife officials suspect the fire, which burned hot and moved quickly, may have been too fast to prompt regeneration.
Moose like hardwood species, such as birch, willow and aspen. These trees need mineral soil to germinate and these mineral soils hide under the forests primary layer of leaves and other organic materials. Fire can burn off this organic layer, exposing the mineral soil for regeneration. However, some reports of the recent fire indicate that the organic layer remains in many areas.
The fire produced a patchwork of burn patterns. In some areas, the surviving hardwood remains too tall for moose. Since it has been over 20 years since the last big fire, the moose population has less to feed on in this area. The Funny River fire may change population dynamics, but most experts remain uncertain on the results. While representatives from Alaska Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Kanai refuge will begin gathering data in 2015 on the fire’s effect on the ecosystem, but predictions as to moose population dynamics are premature. For example, it usually takes a few years for the hardwood species to grow after a fire.
Doug Newbould, fire management officer for the Kenai refuge, says simply, “The jury is still out.”
Source: Anchorage Daily News
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