California Wildfires Ecological Toll Light, Experts Say

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"Deer and rabbits may get caught in the fires, and there are big horn sheep in some of the areas and black bears around Arrowhead," Loft said.

"Burrowing animals typically go underground—we really don't know what happens to them."

One problem that affects wildlife as well as humans may be the deteriorating air quality.

"But that has an impact on individual animals rather than the entire systems," Loft said.

"The long-term prognosis for the entire ecosystem is that fire is favorable even though it has short-term negative impacts on animals," he added.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, wildfires scorched the perimeters of the large Wild Animal Park.

Park officials had to temporarily move the park's California condors and other animals to a fire-safe veterinary medical center inside the park.

One of the park's two condor-breeding facilities was destroyed by the fire.

But most of the animals remained safely inside their 60- to 80-acre (24- to 32-hectare) habitats, which are heavily irrigated and contain no flammable brush.

"We are experienced with these events, so by Sunday night when the fires started we were ready and waiting to move any animals away from areas that may be in danger of the fires," said Yadira Galindo, a spokesperson for the park.

By Wednesday, most of those animals had been moved back to their normal park habitats.

According to Alexia Retallack, spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Game, the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve has been partially affected and the Otay Mountain Ecological Reserve has been fully affected by the fires.

The Witch Fire in San Diego has consumed Boden Canyon, Blue Sky, Meadowbrook, Iron Mountain, Rancho Canada, and Boulder Oaks reserves, she added.

Frequent Fire Concern

Many of the places now burning are the same ones that were scorched during 2003 blazes, however, which does concern Loft.

In many of these locations, chapparal makes up most of the vegetation growth.

Chapparal refers to a community of plants that is dominated by drought-hardy shrubs such as manzanite and chamise, and it thrives in a climate of hot and dry summers and mild winters.

While fires are a natural part of the chaparral ecosystem, too many fires may eliminate the system, replacing the chaparral with non-native grasses and weeds.

"One of the problems," Loft said, "is that if we get into a system where the native vegetation is replaced by annual grasses that are highly flammable and burn every few years, then that has a long-term detrimental effect on wildlife."

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