In the tsunamis of ink spilled in coverage of the fires, there has been nary a mention of wildlife and habitat loss. Yet there are important refuges and sanctuaries that may well have gone up in flames, even as firemen stood by and watched. For example, I heard a disturbing story about something that happened the other day in Orange County (names changed and I'm writing generally to protect those who wish to remain anonymous). As the fire approached a piece of property that abutted a local wildlife refuge, one of the owners asked the firemen if they were going to protect the refuge as well as the private property. They said no. Then the fire ripped through the wildlife haven.
Elsewhere in Orange County, there is the raging fire at Modjeska Canyon. My friend Susan Compo tells me that she is concerned about the fate of the Tucklife Wildlife Sanctuary, canyon home to many birds as well as a desert tortoise named Henry. "It was a staple of my childhood," she says. I searched fire coverage and could find no reference to the supposedly protected area anywhere. Its website says that it is closed because of the fires.
In San Diego County, there is the famous zoo and wildlife park. There has been some coverage of how the fires have impacted these places, but not much and you have to dig deep to find it.
In the ongoing triage that characterizes our region, it's not surprising that animals, plants, and the land itself have been thrown overboard during the latest infernos, just as they are during other times. I understand that there have not been enough resources to fight all of the fires. In fact, the entire country is now in flames, with fires of all kinds raging on many fronts as most of our resources are poured into Iraq.
The So Cal fires are dying, for the moment, and the finger-pointing has begun. As always, the official narratives will be driven by the media, which sees damage only in terms of "structure loss." It certainly would have been easy for assignment editors to go through lists of refuges and sanctuaries and ask reporters to make a few calls, or better yet, send them out for a visit. But that's not the kind of thing that editors think of these days, and now, what little wildlife and habitat remained a few days ago may well have gone up in smoke - a tragic story about a different kind of loss, but one that ultimately is our own.
Updates: On October 25, Noaki Schwartz of the AP bureau in LA filed this important story about one aspect of the environmental damage.
On October 27, Raw Story ran this unsettling story from AFP, about the cataclysmic effect of the fires on endangered species; talks about the need for new protected wilderness areas in California.
On October 29, cartoonist and writer Donna Barstow sent me her blog from this summer's Griffith Park fire. She too was concerned about the fate of the park's wildlife, and made a few calls. Here is what she found out.