Dragon Breath and Bison Wallows, by Walkaboutlou

I received this first email from Walkaboutlou on September 12th, right after the wildfires had raged through the lands that just a few days before were a paradise of western nature: old-growth trees, grasslands, wildlife (including coyotes, elk and buffalo) and ranches interspersed. Lou has been one with the landscape for decades: he lives and breathes it every minute of every day, so he has felt the devastation to his very core: I wanted to put Lou’s words here because they express unimaginable loss — incomprehensible to those of us who will never experience this kind of devastation directly. Wildfires are cataclysmic to all species, causing a reshuffle of what’s there. He goes on to explain buffalo and wallows vs. cattle and pastures, buffalo being the species that evolved with the landscape which includes wildfires.

Hi Janet…truly tough one today. I’m exhausted and empty. My spots and ranges are mostly gone. Just gone. Grandmother trees. Special areas. Gone. A doe ran into my house. She was burned horribly and blinded. How many miles she staggered that way…I gave her water..she drank, eased…and started dying. My neighbor eased her passing. He’s an elderly rancher. I’m a old warrior. We cried and cried. I am hurting for my lands. My trees. I’ll never see the old growth spots again.I’m sorry to share this news. But knew you would understand.

I’m mostly shut in. Brief outings. I know My cascade areas are mostly gone. Burned. My groves of ancient old growth are gone. Most trees killed. My grandmother trees.

I’ve not heard [about] the bison herds. Some cattle were shot to save them from horrible deaths or burning. Some horses have escaped and jumped fences. I’m only hearing some things or call. But by fireman conversations….my cascade ranges…are changed for rest of my life. I have birds dropping dead around home. I have elk where elk never have been. I have to remain calm. I’m exhausted. And empty. My lands and ranges and animals lives and trees….gone. Just gone.

Young, exhausted and safe . . . this young bull made it to bison ranch

Hi Janet,

As we continue to cope with the fires costs and devastation…good things have happened too. The bison ranch with young herd weathered the fires. Some areas burned. But the bison weren’t even perturbed. Ironically, the bison wallows in land broke up the speed of passing fires and dissipated the flames to just tiny send off. The open wallows disrupted flame walls and shorter grasses grazed didn’t turn furnace hot or turn to high walls. Likely there were other factors. But the bison lands burned minimally or not at all. Elk ran for the bison areas. A large bull elk was very grumpy and chased the bison off. But otherwise the elk rested from cascade exodus.

Many animals lost lives or home ranges. I suspect some wolves will have to abandon territorial claims to follow the game. By next year, greens will flourish and elk will return. But for now..many elk had to scatter.

The bison land has proved to be a refuge. I hope many animals can keep finding rest. The short grasses and wallows of bison ranch curtailed any fires that came. Quite remarkable.

Bison wallows are very different [from cattle pastures]. They roll on the ground to itch and create dust baths. Particularly bull buffalo. They are so heavy and massive it creates a “wallow”. An open depression devoid of vegetation. A wallow can hold water in wet months. (creating watering spots for frog homes) It also can be a big dusty circle-that stops fires or slows them to a crawl.

When living with enough space..bisons create wallows that we are learning helps the land. The land definitely prefer bison ranches to cattle.

Also..cattle tend to be harder on pastures and grasslands. They often pull as they graze. This is hard on grass. Buffalo graze more like a lawn mower…cutting grasses precisely. If there is enough space, bison graze and create more robust grasslands and grasses themselves. Bison also utilize less grass way further then most cattle. They instinctively rotate grazing areas if given space.

As I’m able to enter areas…I’ll send you pics. Even public lands are closed in vast areas. And ranch roads inaccessible. [All photos are by Walkaboutlou]


A note about coyotes. Hi Janet, This morning on patrol I had a coyote charge us that then morphed into a full pack skirmish in dark with my dogs and a few coyote. It ended very quickly and no one truly hurt. Its was only much later I realized that it wasn’t the coyotes that lived in that area. The local shy pair or their yearlings would never charge us that boldly. I realized the fires are very likely creating some domino effect in local wolves and especially coyote. They can’t stay in a burned out territory at least for now. We’ve seen elk where we’ve never seen them. It only makes sense coyote and wolf would follow refugees. Adapting and documenting mentally the changes.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jo Thompson
    Sep 29, 2020 @ 12:46:12

    Gut-wrenching. Heart-breaking. BlessWalkaboutlou for putting some of it into words that create real images. Devastating.


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