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Wildfires Bring More Good than Bad, Fish and Game Director Says

by N.S. Nokkentved
Times-News, October 12, 2000

TWIN FALLS -- The forest fires that burned through central Idaho this summer, in the long run, will be good for wildlife, Idaho's top wildlife official says.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Rod Sando recently toured the area of the Clear Creek Fire near Salmon. His assessment: most burned areas will be especially productive in a year or two, he told the Twin Falls Rotary Club Wednesday.

That increased productivity should continue for about 20 years, he said.

Sando, who spent eight years as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, took over the $102,000-a-year job at Fish and Game in April, replacing Steve Mealey, who was fired last year.

Fire could have helped other parts of Idaho's backcountry. In the Clearwater Basin, for example, elk habitat is deteriorating.

"It would have been beneficial if some of that had burned this summer," Sando said.

But with the good comes some bad. Some fires may have burned of some elk winter range, meaning some hard times for elk this winter. Officials might consider feeding elk, he said.

Already with fall rains, sediments from burned areas are washing into streams. The sediment will have a short-term negative effect on fish, but in the long term, nutrients will increase the streams' productivity, Sando said.

Idaho fish and wildlife populations are adapted to fire, he said.

But it's a different story on rangelands, where highly flammable cheatgrass has made for frequent fires and degraded sage grouse habitat. Sage grouse numbers are declining across most of the state.

Environmental groups have petitioned sage grouse for listing as an endangered species in Washington and southwestern Colorado.

Sando also commented on some already listed endangered species:

There is some speculation on the best thing for salmon, but the best thing is not always possible, he said.

At the center of the controversy is four federal dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. Most Northwest fisheries scientists say dams must be breached to save Snake River salmon.

Sando said he won't muzzle department biologists' opinions. Department employees don't need to be advocates but to continue to gather high-quality data, he said.

The ultimate decisions may not be made on science, but on political, social and economic issues, Sando said.

N.S. Nokkentved
Wildfires Bring More Good than Bad, Fish and Game Director Says
Times-News, October 12, 2000

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