If you live in the West, you are acutely aware of worsening fires and much longer fire seasons. Putting aside the obvious detrimental effects like loss of animal life, habitat, and awful smoke, there are larger issues at stake particularly for sportsmen in Western states.
The U.S. has a staggering amount of public land, 640 million acres to be exact, that are free for people to access, including to hunt. 21 million of those free-use acres are in California alone so when those millions of acres are closed due to raging wildfires, it’s a big problem.
At one point during this year’s devastating wildfire season, many state parks and national forest land were closed to access. Not only does that affect people recreating from hunting to fishing to hiking, but it is also detrimental to conservation efforts. There are many reasons that wildfires are getting worse. Fire suppression is a big one. Small, controlled fires can clear forests of undergrowth and brush, freeing the area for new, green growth and minimizing ignition and spread when a bigger wildfire occurs. Other reasons include extended drought, high summer temperatures, and insect infestations leaving dry, dead trees that catch fire quickly.
The National Wild Turkey Foundation is doing its part when it comes to conservation, preservation, and keeping hunting heritage alive. Patt Dorsey, NWTF director of conservation operations in the West, quoted,
“The benefits of our stewardship agreements and landscape-scale initiatives are so far-reaching that we have the opportunity to bring in so many different partners with shared values, and we are just getting started. When we manage a forest at risk to growing threats, we are making wildlife habitat better, providing cleaner water for aquatic species and human communities downstream, making forests safer against wildfires and insect infestations, giving Americans their endowed access to their lands — this list goes on. I can’t stress how important it is that we continue this work with partners and grow the scale at which we are doing it for the betterment of the world we live in.”
Wildfires are inhibiting our access to public lands when they are closed due to wildfires. While this causes obvious harm, including loss of flora and fauna, there are also dollars at stake. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters contribute $200 million dollars toward national wildlife conservation. When public land and national forests are closed to hunting and fishing recreation, that money is lost.
Unfortunately, wildfires will happen and continue to be more intense and detrimental to outdoor recreation. Forest management and controlled burns are absolutely necessary and it’s important that hunting groups work with agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and managers of state-owned lands.
“Whether we realize it or not, whether it is intentional or not, humans have an impact every day on our forests,” Dorsey said. “Ironically, deciding to ‘do nothing’ has an impact. We must be proactive when it comes to forest health, because reacting isn’t working. We must manage our forests to make them safe, resilient and less susceptible to catastrophic wildfire. When we thin an overly dense forest, we are not only making the area safer for nearby human communities, we are recreating the habitat the native species have evolved with and ensuring recreational access for people to enjoy the great outdoors. This is integral to NWTF’s mission to conserve the wild turkey and preserve our hunting heritage.”
NWFT is taking the initiative and hiring internal conservation specialists including a Western Water Specialist and working with a variety of partners including hunting groups, water providers, water users, energy companies, government municipalities, state and federal agencies, additional conservation organizations, and more all in the hope of keeping wildlands open and healthy.
We are out hunting in and around our Reno home base whenever we can. This year’s fire season was awful with the Dixie Fire raging out of control to our north and the Caldor Fire burning to our south. Reno was inundated with thick smoke for weeks on end and many of our public lands were inaccessible during peak hunting and fishing season.
Wildfires are a problem for everyone and we need to work together to keep them under control. That means hardening our homes to withstand flying embers, being ultra-careful with anything that may ignite a spark during high fire danger weather, and supporting our state and federal regulators when they push for forest management and controlled burns.
Here’s to hoping for less destructive fire seasons in our future!