Presenter: Jeff Bonner

Commission Agenda Item No. 11
Panhandle Wildfires – A Year Later
May 24, 2007

I. Executive Summary: Briefing will cover observed impacts on habitat and some wildlife populations as a result of the 2006 Panhandle wildfires. Photo points of burned areas will demonstrate recovery of several different habitat types.

II. Discussion: Abundance of moisture beginning in the fall of 2004 and continuing through the summer of 2005 resulted in excellent range conditions and grass production. This was followed by extremely dry conditions throughout the fall and winter 2005-06 and spring of 2006 and continued until August of that year. While there were numerous wildfires throughout the Panhandle, the fires of March 12th were the most devastating with around 750,000 acres totally consumed in what has become known as the "Borger Fire" and the "I-40 Fire".

The greatest losses in these fires were certainly life, homes, livestock, and the impacted livelihoods of local ranchers. Even though some wildlife species were killed in the fire itself, the long-term result will be increased range land health, plant species diversity and abundance, which will result in an increase of wildlife health and abundance. Prairie wildlife species have lived in the presence of fire (often dependent on fire) for centuries, and the populations, as a whole, will benefit from these fires in the long run. Male lesser prairie chicken presence at leks was about half compared to the previous year. Whitetail deer numbers remained similar during early fall spotlight surveys. Pronghorn antelope numbers increased in surveyed blocks due to increased forage quality concentrating herds.

To monitor habitat recovery, photo points were established in several different habitat types and photos were collected approximately monthly throughout the growing season of 2006. No soil moisture at the time of the fires and the following dry conditions resulted in slow recovery in most habitats, excluding herbaceous vegetation in some riparian areas. However, soil moisture for the 2007 growing season is excellent and recovery is expected to be splendid.