Hidden cameras spot wildlife returning home after 2018 megafire

by Kara Manke, UC Berkeley
July 17, 2023

During the summer of 2018, the Mendocino Complex Fire ripped through UC’s Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC), transforming the Northern California property’s grassy, oak-dotted hillsides into a smoldering, ash-covered wasteland.

“It felt like something out of the Lord of the Rings — like Mordor. It was hard to imagine much surviving,” said Justin Brashares, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley.

But mere months after the fire, animals like coyote, gray foxes and black-tailed jackrabbits were seen returning to the area, spotted by grid of motion-sensor camera traps that Brashares’ lab has operated since 2016 at the HREC, a multidisciplinary research and education facility located on the banks of the Russian River about 13 miles south of Ukiah.

“We were surprised that many species seem to be resistant [to the impacts of the fire],” said Kendall Calhoun, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a member of Brashares’ lab.

Calhoun is the lead author of a new study that analyzed more that 500,000 camera grid images taken at the HREC in the years before and after the Mendocino Complex Fire to understand how the blaze impacted small- and medium-sized mammals on the property.

The study, which appeared today in the journal Ecosphere, is one of the first studies to compare continuous wildlife observations made before and after a megafire. It is also one of a limited number of studies to focus on the impacts of megafires on California’s oak woodlands. Oak woodland ecosystems comprise a large portion of the state, and yet are underrepresented in wildfire research compared to the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada.

Keep reading: https://news.berkeley.edu/2023/07/17/hidden-cameras-spot-wildlife-returning-home-after-2018-megafire/

Read the Ecosphere paper: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.4613