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Climate and Environment

Heritage Fire Damages Mojave Desert Conservation Site, Leaving Vulnerable Wildlife Exposed

Smoke plumes above trees at Palisades Ranch in the Mojave Desert
The full scope of the damage caused by the Heritage Fire is still unclear, but Cody Hanford of the Mojave Desert Land Trust estimates at least 50% of the trees that came into contact with the blaze are dead or will die.
(Thomas Eagan
/
The Mojave Desert Land Trust )
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A riparian conservation area in the Mojave Desert has been damaged by the Heritage Fire, which has burned about 500 acres near Victorville, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District.

While the fire is now about 95% contained, the full scope of the damage at Palisades Ranch is unclear.

What was once a river shielded by a forest in the middle of the desert is now exposed, leaving around 40 special-status wildlife species, including beavers, birds, and other animals, vulnerable to trespassers and invasive species.

That's a major concern for Cody Hanford, co-executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust.

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"This time of year is nesting season for birds," he said. "So birds like the Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, the Least Bell's Vireo and the Lucy's warbler are really important — federally threatened — birds that depend on the area, and this was a really difficult time for them to have to flee a fire."

Hanford estimates about 50% of the trees that came into contact with the fire are dead.

A news release from the trust notes:

Very few records exist for some of the species recorded in this area, indicating they are at the limits of their normal ranges.

Still, there's a glimmer of hope, Hanford said. The trust and local agencies can learn more about fire recovery, and the fire also cleared out a lot of invasive species on the ranch.

"Riparian systems themselves are resilient, and over time, they can come back," he said. "As long as we do no harm to them and give them an opportunity."

An illustrated map calls out some of the native species including the desert tortoise, burrowing owl, screwbean mequite, least bell's vireo and fishhook cactus
(Courtesy Mojave Desert Land Trust)
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