Unit 28 Forage Recovering
Fish and Game has received many inquiries regarding the impacts of the Clear Creek Fire on wildlife, particularly big game animals. The Clear Creek fire was one of the nation's largest and most intense wildfires that burned over millions of acres last summer. At more than 200,000 acres, it affected a major portion of the popular Game Management Unit 28, a unit that is home to a large elk herd as well as other animals. The unit contains some critical winter range for elk. Fish and Game biologists have been touring the area to record the initial impacts of the fire as well as range recovery. Much of the critical big game winter range in Unit 28 that was burned is located in the lower Panther Creek Drainage. Biologists estimate that between 30 and 40 percent of this area was burned by low to moderate intensity fires, leaving a mosaic of burned and unburned areas across the range. This pattern is most obvious in the lower tributaries of Panther Creek especially Clear, Beaver, and Trail Creeks. At the present time, the unburned areas provide a good standing crop of grasses, forbs, and shrubs that will be available to big game this winter. With the exception of scattered sites of Idaho fescue grass on steep northern slopes as well as mountain mahogany in some areas, important perennial wildlife food plants appear to have survived. Highly nutritious species such as bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, and Sandberg bluegrass have all been helped recently by above-average rainfall and mild conditions and are showing growth of two to six inches. Most shrub species, with the exception of mountain mahogany and sagebrush, will re-sprout in the spring. Overall, the burned areas of critical big game winter range in Unit 28 appear to be recovering quickly. This re-growth will provide high quality fall and winter forage for the animals that depend upon this range during the coming winter months.