Kenow Fire: Impact on wildlife
The Kenow wildfire was a fire of exceptional magnitude. Under normal circumstances, larger animals are usually able to flee and smaller animals may seek refuge underground.
However, the rapid growth and extreme fire behaviour exhibited by the Kenow wildfire created an unprecedented situation where mortality of wildlife occurred.
The fire moved quickly during the night and the speed of growth compounded by heavy smoke limited the possibility for wildlife to escape its path.
There is life in the park and many animals did survive, but many did also succumb to the fire or smoke inhalation. Healthy animals, such as elk, deer, moose, bears and sheep have been observed within the fire area. Animals were able to find refuge during the fire and those who moved out of the path of the fire are returning to the park.
At this time, Parks Canada is managing the immediate impacts of the fire on wildlife. Parks Canada is actively seeking out mortally wounded animals and is humanely euthanizing animals that have wounds that are not survivable or treatable.
Parks Canada has brought in its Wildlife Health Specialist to assist and oversee this process. Ending an animal’s life is always a last resort and is not a decision that we take lightly as our staff work very hard to protect wildlife and ecological integrity within the national park.
Much of the landscape within the national park has changed and this includes the food sources that wildlife would normally rely on. Animal carcasses are being left on the landscape to provide additional food sources for carnivores and scavengers. It’s important to keep in mind that, as we move forward into the winter season, we will begin to observe the long term effects of this fire on wildlife, such as animals moving outside the fire perimeter in search of new food sources over the winter.
Over the years and seasons, the land will rejuvenate itself and wildlife will return to thrive again in Waterton Lakes National Park. This will take time though, and wildlife will need to adapt to the altered habitat within the park. Fire has always been part of the natural cycle that has shaped the habitat and vegetation on this landscape and the flora and fauna of Waterton Lakes National Park will respond to this fire in a positive way.
Residents and visitors need to take extra precaution around wildlife in the park as they may be displaced or acting abnormally due to the impact of the fire. Wildlife behaviour is always unpredictable, and species in and around Waterton Lakes National Park will be under additional stress.