The fire at Tex Creek blackened thousands of acres, including most of the lower elevation sagebrush-steppe so important to wildlife. But all was not lost and Tex Creek WMA is still there.
Sitting in front of my campfire last night, I stared into the flames and reflected on how taming fire changed the world for the human race. With the advent of fire, we could keep predators at bay, cook and preserve food, warm our shelters and cheer our world weary hearts.
My thoughts turned to the other side of fire, the destructive side, and the recent Henry Fire that burned east of Idaho Falls for several weeks. Much of what it blackened was the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area, a place that was a big part of my life and career.
I managed Tex Creek WMA for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for 13 years. But that wasn’t my first introduction to that wonderful place. I also did my graduate work there many years before, studying the migration and winter use patterns of the mule deer herd. Later I managed the habitat program for the Upper Snake Region that included Tex Creek.
I left town on a scheduled trip on the second day of the fire. As I crossed Antelope Flat on Highway 26, I saw a column of smoke that seemed to emanate from the Tex Creek area. Just the day before, the fire had been far to the west. A cold ball of fear settled into my gut.
I was out of town while the fire burned the hottest and relied on news reports and the occasional phone visit with a colleague. The news was terrible. Reporters quoted fire managers who used words like: “broke the fire model”, “hot hot fire”, “burning right through aspen stand like they were grass”. Forty mph winds pushed the fire and flames leapt in half mile bounds, making fire lines useless. Even a layman like myself could understand that this was a severe fire.
I had been at Tex Creek in 2000 when the Blacktail Fire raged, and I knew what a hot, wind-driven fire and the aftermath looked like. There was virtually nothing left above ground and though we tried rehabilitation by planting thousands of pounds of native seed and tens of thousands of shrub seedlings, what we mostly got back was cheatgrass and other annual weeds.
So, when the flames subsided and it was safe to drive through Tex Creek WMA, I headed out. I expected the worst and anticipated saying goodbye to an old friend. As if to confirm my fears, scorched earth began on the WMA on the west side of Willow Creek. I was gratified to see that some areas were mysteriously spared and there was more of a mosaic, both in fire intensity and what was spared, than I had hoped for, given the reports. However, the amount of black, especially in the critical and difficult to restore lower elevation sagebrush-steppe was astounding. I could not have imagined a fire so massive.
But I was relieved to see that the bones of the place were still there. When my imagination melded with all the fearsome reports, I think I had expected to see the area fundamentally changed and somehow unrecognizable. In fact, when my son asked me about it, I told him that based on the reports, the Tex Creek WMA he had grown up with was gone. But the hills, the streams and the rocks were still there. Pockets of vegetation survived intact and other areas would recover on their own. I could still recognize it and it still felt like the place that had been such a part of my life. For that, I was grateful.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho