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Wildlife seek refuge from flames

Animals may find themselves in local neighborhoods while running from Station Fire

Posted: September 5, 2009 6:04 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A deer escapes a wildfire in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles last Sunday.

 
As animals flee the wilderness ravaged by the Station Fire, they might end up looking for food or shelter in Santa Clarita Valley neighborhoods, experts said.

"(You) may encounter more wild animals in and around your house," said Frank Hoffman, Placerita Canyon Natural Area acting superintendent Frank Hoffman. "Right now, the biggest problem for wildlife will be finding shelter and food."

It is estimated thousands of animals could flee the fire, said Jay Weiner, Executive Director of The Gentle Barn. Thus far The Gentle
Barn has taken in several domestic animals.

Several smaller species of animals, including squirrels and rabbits were seen escaping the flames, he said.

"It's devastating for the wildlife," Weiner said. "It's never a good thing for them when there's a wildfire because it pushes them into areas they are not familiar with."

Angeles National Forest wildlife biologist Leslie Welch said that local communities may become a refuge for animals.

"When we have a fire of this size, that means there are very few areas where the individuals can locate," said Welch.

Welch likened the situation to an apartment complex in which 15 units are destroyed, leaving only five intact. When the animals relocate to new habitats, foraging for food and water will become more difficult.

"That's going to be a problem, isn't it?" Welch said. "Now they have to compete with their new neighbors."

This will mean that many animals will be forced closer to the urban edge, a term which denotes the area of land between urban sprawl and open spaces.

"Those that were normally living in that area will be spreading out," Hoffman said. "They're going to be reaching the urban sprawl."

Hoffman is encouraging people to remain vigilant for wildlife. Residents are advised to keep a watchful eye on pets and loved ones.
Fences over six feet high will be effective barriers against potentially dangerous animals like coyotes.

"Coyotes can easily get over a chain link fence," Hoffman said.

Hoffman also advises that any pet food should be cleaned up as well as dried fruit. Water sources, such as hoses, should be tightly cinched as many animals will be looking for a water source.

The most important note of caution is to never intentionally feed wildlife.

"They lose their natural instinctive fear of humans and can become aggressive," Hoffman said.

Hoffman also noted that injured animals should be left alone and handled by professionals.

"(We) encourage anyone who sees an injured animal to call local animal control or our facility at Placerita and we can refer you to the appropriate entity suitable to your animal type," he said. "Do not try to capture the wild animal yourself."

Experts agree that older animals may suffer from respiratory problems as a result of smoke inhalation.

While the disaster may be hazardous, Hoffman suggests appreciating as well as remaining cautious.

"Be glad you get to see them, but keep animals wild," Hoffman said. "They were here first."

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