MAPPING THE DAMAGE

A month later, a protection plan emerges for the island

Laura Jean Schneider ljschneider@ptleader.com
Posted 9/10/21

 

While the cause of a mysterious fire on Protection Island in early August remains under investigation, the effects are already sobering.

On a recent visit to the burn site, a group of …

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MAPPING THE DAMAGE

A month later, a protection plan emerges for the island

This rhinoceros auklet chick was one of many casualties caused by an Aug. 3 fire on Protection Island. Dry, combustible grasses contributed to the spread of the blaze, the cause of which is currently undergoing investigation.
This rhinoceros auklet chick was one of many casualties caused by an Aug. 3 fire on Protection Island. Dry, combustible grasses contributed to the spread of the blaze, the cause of which is currently undergoing investigation.
Photo by Scott Pearson
Posted

 

While the cause of a mysterious fire on Protection Island in early August remains under investigation, the effects are already sobering.

On a recent visit to the burn site, a group of biologists documented multiple mortalities as a result of the blaze.

Scott Pearson, Darric Lowrey, and Chad Norris from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the Zella Schultz Sanctuary, were joined by Lorenz Solloman from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife (which is responsible for the remainder of the island) to document the effects of the fire, discuss fire restoration efforts, and create a GPS map of the burn area from Aug. 3.

The damage was readily apparent.

“We observed dead glaucous-winged gull chicks that were burned by the fire and several rhinoceros auklet chicks dead on the top near the steep slopes,” Pearson said. “They likely died of starvation after being abandoned.”

Pearson said that the burning of Kanem Spit probably resulted in burned guillemot chicks, whose nests are located in the driftwood collected on the spit.

Miraculously, the fire stopped about 30 feet from a puffin nest where just the week previous, adults were documented feeding bill-loads of fish to their young.

“The proposed restoration efforts that we were discussing… [are] an opportunity to plant native perennial species that are more likely to hold the rapidly eroding soil than the non-native annual grasses that dominate the island’s steep slopes,” Pearson said.

Native perennial fescues would be a  good choice to help prevent erosion of soil left bare by the fire, he said.

Pearson spoke on behalf of the creatures of Protection Island when he urged people to exercise respect for the animals that call the island home.

“We estimate that there are 36,000 occupied burrows. Some burrows go unused, and in each occupied burrow, a single egg is laid each year,” he said of the rhinoceros auklets.

Human presence can easily spook birds from returning to their nests, and it’s illegal to be less than 200 feet from the island.

“Although we don’t know the cause of the fire and there is an ongoing investigation, it is hard to imagine that the fire started naturally given the weather conditions that day,” Pearson said.

Anyone with information surrounding the fire is encouraged to contact Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement at 877-933-9847, via wdfw.wa.gov, or text message. Photos can be sent to the department at TIP411 (847411).

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