An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wildlife Biologist Mourns Habitat Loss From Range 12 Fire

Significant portions of the Hanford Reach National Monument including Rattlesnake Mountain and the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve were burned up in the Range 12 Fire this week.
Heidi Newsome
/
Significant portions of the Hanford Reach National Monument including Rattlesnake Mountain and the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve were burned up in the Range 12 Fire this week.

The Range 12 Fire in southeast Washington has destroyed some of the most sensitive shrub steppe habitat in the nation.

Heidi Newsome is a wildlife biologist in the sand and sagebrush on the Hanford Reach National Monument. This is the third massive fire in just 16 years on this federally protected landscape she manages.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Heidi Newsome
Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network
/
Northwest News Network
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Heidi Newsome

“So it really becomes a challenge to do good wildlife management when you are having fires this frequently,” Newsome said.

Walking through the charred remains of the Range 12 Fire is grim she said, like a burnt-down house. Bugs and birds flying from flames, mother elk calling for their calves and voles coming up to discover a moonscape of char and ash.

Newsome said plants like sagebrush need much longer than 10 years to become mature enough for nesting, food, shade and cover. Many sage-dwelling species have little other place to go in the West.

After the fire, federal land managers will work to help lessen flowing mud, blowing sand and the spread of invasive species like cheatgrass and tumbleweed on the Hanford National Reach.

The Range 12 Fire has grown to more than 177,000 acres and is currently the largest wildfire on a list of active wildfires across the U.S. being managed by government agencies.

The Range 12 Fire in southeast Washington has destroyed some of the most sensitive shrub steppe habitat in the nation.
Credit Heidi Newsome
/
The Range 12 Fire in southeast Washington has destroyed some of the most sensitive shrub steppe habitat in the nation.

Copyright 2016 Northwest News Network

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.