Wildlife after the fire

Waterton Lakes National Park

The Kenow Wildfire was a fire of exceptional severity. 

Under less severe circumstances, larger animals are usually able to flee a wildfire and smaller animals may seek refuge underground. However, the Kenow Wildfire’s rapid growth and extreme behaviour created a 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. 

But many animals survived.  Some animals were able to find refuge during the fire and those who moved out of its path are returning to the park. Healthy animals, such as elk, deer, moose, bears and sheep have been observed within the fire area, but their feeding opportunities will be limited.

Parks Canada is managing the impacts of the fire on wildlife. Soon after the Kenow Fire, we sought out mortally wounded animals and humanely euthanized animals that had wounds that were not survivable or treatable to limit unnecessary suffering 

Parks Canada 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. Our staff work hard to protect wildlife and ecological integrity within the national park. 

Much of the landscape within Waterton Lakes National Park has changed and this includes the food sources that wildlife would normally rely on. Animal carcasses were left on the landscape to provide additional food sources for carnivores and scavengers. 

It’s important to keep in mind that, as we move into the spring and summer 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. Winter grazing animals will find sustenance in other areas in the park and elsewhere in their Crown of the Continent habitat, but some will also perish from the hard winter compounded by a lack of vegetation due to the fire.

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 may look different, and wildlife will need to adapt to the altered habitat. It is also important for the visitor to recognise that wildlife will not be able to rely on traditional food sources until the vegetation re-establishes itself and may require more space to be able to thrive. 

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 the park will respond to this fire in a positive way. 

Visitor and wildlife safety is of utmost importance to Parks Canada. It is critical for visitors to remember that they share the surrounding habitat with wildlife and have a responsibility to be informed and act appropriately. We ask visitors to respect our wildlife. That means give them their space, never feed wildlife, and help us to allow them to remain wild.

If you observe large carnivores, injured animals or those exhibiting abnormal behaviour, report it immediately to 1-888-WARDENS (1-888-927-3367). For your safety, and the safety of the animals, never approach, feed or entice wildlife.

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