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Wildfires May Be Dangerous For Humans, But They Help Elk

U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Forest Service
Grass grows back after a wildfire in Utah.

Wildfires in the West can destroy homes and create a lot of really nasty smoke. But a new study from the University of Montana says it also helps grow some really great food for elk.

While elk love irrigated crops like hay and alfalfa, researchers say wildfires help lay the groundwork for food that’s just as nutritious.

“If we think about it, most Western ecosystems evolved with fire,” said Tom Toman, director of science and planning for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “That’s been a part of their life history forever.”

Wildfires act as a kind of reset button for the land, allowing grasses and shrubs to grow back on the blackened soil.

Toman said his organization always had a hunch that fires helped create better food for elk. They’ve been lighting prescribed burns on public lands since the 1980s.

“It’s a great study to shows we’ve been on the right track,” he said. “We just need to continue and continue to use the latest science as it’s developed.”

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Wildlife Management.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.