How Wildfires and Heat Waves Affect Oregon Wildlife

Extreme heat and wildfires throughout the state of Oregon have a lot of people wondering how wildlife is affected. Think Wild in Bend, Oregon, hasn’t seen any injured or orphaned wildlife patients due to the fires yet, but during the heat wave their hotline was flooded with calls about birds fleeing their nests.

Oregon’s native species are adapted to reacting to fires, but that doesn’t mean that many won’t suffer or lose their lives. The fires will cause immediate habitat loss and potential die-offs, and they change ecosystem structure for years to come. Some species that depend on mature forests – tree cavity-nesting owls, for example – may experience population reductions while those that thrive in young forests, like songbirds and burrowing mammals, may increase.

In the short term, with the severity and scale of the recent wildfires, wildlife may be more likely to enter urban areas and exhibit unusual behavior while fleeing the smoke and fire. They will also be in search of food resources, which will be significantly depleted in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Long term, Think Wild expects an increase in orphaned, injured, and especially starving wildlife.

“Wildlife are going to be terrified and may be traveling through your property fleeing fire and looking for food and water,” said Pauline Baker, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Think Wild. “Do not panic or approach these animals but monitor at a safe distance. You can leave out fresh, cold water for them if you want to help. If you are concerned about an injury, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.”

Wildlife hospitals across Oregon were inundated with calls related to the heat wave that set record temperatures in the Pacific Northwest at the end of June. Some rescue centers, including Chintimini Wildlife Center, closed early in the season due to capacity restraints.

While not currently receiving any wildfire-specific calls – Think Wild expects cases to significantly increase as ecosystem changes take effect and as people enter back into affected areas and are more likely to come across wildlife in need of help. The non-profit wildlife hospital has already treated over 385 patients and responded to a thousand calls this summer.
Here are tangible ways that you can help native wildlife and your local wildlife hospitals:

  • Do not leave food out or feed wildlife. If you have a bird feeder, clean it often. You can leave water out away from your house as long as you change it often.
  • Keep dogs and cats indoors as much as possible during times of hazardous air quality. This will protect them and also prevent cat and dog-caught related injuries to small animals and babies that may be moving about or seeking refuge.
  • Make sure water features on your property, such as irrigation ponds, provide an exit strategy for wildlife to climb out. Rocks, rope and logs are helpful additions to prevent wildlife from drowning.
  • Do not approach wildlife. Call your local wildlife hospital if you find injured or orphaned wildlife or if you see wildlife behaving strangely and are uncertain of how to proceed.
  • If you find an animal that has been burnt and are waiting to get in contact with a wildlife hospital or vet, do not feed it. Wrap it loosely in 100% cotton and place it in a well-ventilated box in a dark and quiet place.
  • Be conscious of your water usage. Try to minimize water use, especially during droughts, the hot, dry summer months and wildfire season.
  • Pay attention to burning restrictions, especially when traveling to another location. Stay educated on potential fire hazards – small, contained fires can become disastrous very quickly.
  • Your local wildlife hospital could always use more donations and supplies. Most wildlife hospitals (including Think Wild) receive little to no government funding and rely on individual in-kind and cash donations. Hosting a fundraiser for your local wildlife hospital at your business, through social media, in your network is a great way to show support.