When I first saw my friends after their home burned to the ground, I didn’t know what to say? I knew how I would feel if we had lost our home. But the loss felt even more bitter for my friends. Like my husband and me, they had bought the house as their dream home in the mountains.
I tried to be comforting.
“The most important thing is that you are safe. You can rebuild. You still have the land.”
I knew they would be upset. They had suffered a huge loss. But I was surprised by one of their biggest concerns.
“But, what about the wildlife? The land and forest are blackened. We bought the land in part to enjoy the wildlife. What will happen? Will the wildlife come back?”
I still remember my response.
“Oh, you will still have plenty of wildlife. In fact, you may have more wildlife. As the grasses, young aspen, and wildflowers grow, it will bring back elk, deer and moose. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of wildlife by next spring.”
Due to restrictions on rebuilding, my friends ended up buying another home here in Nederland. But my words ring true as I drive through the burn scar from the Cold Springs Wildfire every day.
Driving on Ridge Road, I see movement out of the corner of my eye. There they are again. The white furry butts are the tell tale sign that the herd of Rocky Mountain Elk is grazing yet again. Before the fire, I only saw elk a couple of times in our neighborhood. Since the fire, a group of 15-20 female elk have taken up permanent residence. Routinely as I drive home in the evening, I spy their large tawny bodies amidst the burnt aspen trees.
And who can blame them?
The burn scare is alive with green — a variety of grasses, wildflowers, young aspen have taken over what was scorched earth less than two years ago. I can only imagine how tender and yummy all those newly grown plants would be for an elk. Judging from the how earnestly they nibble, only glancing for a moment as I snap photos, they have found the perfect smorgasbord for their vegetarian palate.
And it’s not just the mammals that have taken up residence. Just the other day, I spied a small face peeking out of a burnt snag — a tiny flammulated owl had found a home to hatch her young.
Seeing the burn scar teeming with life reminds me that fire is a natural phenomena. And that fire helps to create forest health and rejuvenates the ecosystem. Fire has a role in keeping the habitat around us healthy for the wildlife we coexist with. And it reminds me of the importance of using prescribed fire to safely create forest health and keep mega-fires at bay.
“Perhaps the earth can teach us, as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.” —Pablo Neruda