How wildfires threaten the ecosystem and fishing

By Jeffrey Walters | | Dec 22, 2021

The lake, sections of the Kern River, streams and creeks all take a beating when wildfires are nearby.

A flowing creek through burned area | Jeffrey Walters

Here in the Kern River Valley, the threat of wildfires is always a concern, and every year the residents, visitors and seasonal workers must live with this threat. We plan, get things ready to move out in case we must leave and find homes for our animals if we have any. It is part of our way of life here in the valley.

However, we are not the only ones who have to deal with, overcome and adjust to wildfires. The local wildlife is uprooted and forced to move, and we all too frequently see these displaced animals directly in our community and sometimes even in our own backyards. There is one species of wildlife that can’t escape these wildfires and their aftermath and that is the local fish populations.

The lake, sections of the Kern River, streams and creeks all take a beating when wildfires are nearby. Either directly in the path of the fire or downstream, they are all affected. Winter rain and snow causes water flow into the lake, river and streams, bringing with it large amounts of material. This material – be it timber, dirt, sand and soot from the fires – fills these areas, making it a life-and-death situation for the fish population.

You might be thinking that this is no big deal, but it is a very big deal. The debris and soot that flow into these water ways simply chokes out the fish, killing them by the thousands. Entire populations can be wiped out in a rather short period of time. Streams and creeks are hit the hardest because the dense layers of soot get trapped, choking not only the stream, but also the animals that live in the streams.

The debris flow moved by the rains and melting snow removes tons of topsoil, sand and rocks, causing further massive erosion. This forces all of the debris into the once-clear and flowing streams. This is nature doing what nature does and not too much can be done about it. Many anglers will see the direct impact because they are on the water more than most. They will see the mudslides, the large rocks and boulders crashing down, they will see the very dark black lines of soot from the fires coating everything.

After a wildfire has swept through an area, the effects continue to threaten wildlife long after the flames are put out. The lifecycle of the water is disrupted in such a way that even underwater the areas resemble a desert, where nothing grows or lives. What can we do to help? We can get out there and help pick up the trash and other debris that gets tossed into the water. We can join groups of volunteers to help plant trees and shrubs and help with soil erosion prevention. We can make a difference if we simply ask how we can help. Contact your local Forest Ranger Office to see how you can help. The Kern River Ranger District can be reached at 760-376-3781.