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Audubon Portrays Rim Fire as Wildlife Nursery

Contributed by Len McKenzie, YAAS —

Field biologist Christy Sherr will take local residents on a virtual field trip on Thursday, Apr. 14, when she revisits the 2013 Rim Fire in a slide presentation, “Wildlife Nurseries: The Surprising Benefits of Beetles and Wildfires.”

This monthly program of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society will begin at 7 p.m. at the Mariposa Methodist Church at Bullion and 6th streets in downtown Mariposa.

People living in the central Sierra area well remember the human-caused inferno that started in the Stanislaus National Forest and spread with unprecedented speed to become the largest fire ever in the Sierra Nevada and the third largest in California history, ultimately burning more than 257,000 acres.

While the Rim Fire, like all catastrophic wildfires, posed a threat to human life and property and unquestionably caused ecological damage and habitat destruction, it also yielded some ecological benefits. Likewise, the expanding, drought-induced expanses of bark beetle-killed trees that now blot the central Sierra landscape have potential negative consequences and some positive ecological outcomes.

Curious owl - photo courtesy of Monica Bond of Wild Nature Institute

Curious owl – photo courtesy of Monica Bond of Wild Nature Institute

Mixed-intensity wildfires and native beetles create some of the most productive and critical habitats for California birds and other wildlife, comparable or even better than even late-succession, or “old-growth,” forests. A host of plants, insects, mammals and birds, such as black-backed woodpeckers and, surprisingly, threatened and endangered species such as spotted owls and Pacific fishers, prefer large, dense patches of standing dead trees.

Sherr, a retired national and state park ranger, is currently working as a field biologist and education coordinator for the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute. A past president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Chapter, she watched her ten-year-old daughter become a birder in a burned forest!

Along with Sherr, Monica Bond, a wildlife biologist with 15 years of experience in ecology of wildlife in fire-affected forests, will describe how extensive research on the use of severely burned forest by spotted owls and black-backed woodpeckers has led to the protection of much of this habitat type from post-fire logging.

Bond will present the latest published research about effects of wildfire and post-fire logging on spotted owls and discuss a new paradigm for this iconic management species. She is co-founder and principal scientist with the Wild Nature Institute, a not-for-profit independent research organization. She received her BA in Biology from Duke University and MS in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University.

Sherr and Bond’s program will explore the unique beauty of this important habitat and why so many species benefit from conditions created by beetles and fire.

Like all YAAS programs, Sherr and Bond’s presentation is open and free to the public, although donations to defray program costs and to support the chapter’s local activities are welcome.

YAAS will also offer a free field trip Saturday, Apr. 23, down White Rock Road, perhaps the best birding route in Mariposa County, especially in spring when migrants arrive in the foothills. Participants should meet at 8 a.m. in the Mariposa County Fairgrounds parking lot to carpool. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them (loaners are available), lunch, snacks and beverage. The public is welcome.

Call (209) 742-5579 for more information about the program or the field trip, or visit www.yosemiteaudubon.org.

The mission of the National Audubon Society, the namesake of noted 19th-century naturalist and bird painter John James Audubon; its state affiliate, Audubon California; and local chapters such as the Yosemite Area Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.

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