Drought and wild fire facts – Wood Buffalo National Park

Fire on Wood Buffalo National Park Canada.      photo by John McKinno
Fire on Wood Buffalo National Park Canada. photo by John McKinnon

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) has received many questions concerning effects of the current drought and wild fires in Wood Buffalo National Park. Our “Friends” want to know how the drought and fires are affecting the wild Whooping Cranes. So, we contacted officials at Wood Buffalo to get the facts.

The following list of questions and answers were provided to FOTWW. Answers were provided by Stuart MacMillan, the Resource Conservation Manager for Wood Buffalo National Park.

Q1. What are current conditions like in the park?

A1. Wood Buffalo National Park is experiencing drought conditions. Current conditions in the wetlands where the cranes nest indicate that there is sufficient water for the birds to forage for the food they need.

Q2. In general, how can the drought and the shortage of water affect the population of the whooping cranes in the park?

A2. During dry years, the cranes food supplies may be diminished and both adult and juvenile cranes may have to move further from nests to forage for food. Dryer conditions may also make it easier for land predators to access their nesting sites.

Q3. Is this the first time the Park has been faced with this problem?

A3. Dry conditions are not uncommon in Wood Buffalo National Park. The cranes have survived here during dry years and during severe fire years. They are adapted to survive in this landscape. In the past, fires have burned large portions of the nesting area during drought years (e.g.,1981), but previous research indicates that wildfires do not appear to have influenced whooping cranes’ choice of nest sites. However, below average Whooping Crane production during drought years has been documented in the past (1990-1991).

Q4. What effect does wildfire have on the cranes?

Whooping Crane habitat on Wood Buffalo National Park.   photo by Jane Peterson WBNP
Whooping Crane habitat on Wood Buffalo National Park.        photo by Jane Peterson WBNP

A4. The number of wildfires also increases during drought years. Wildfires are generally thought to have beneficial effects on crane habitat by recycling nutrients and removing and thinning vegetation on the forested ridges between nesting ponds, making the area more accessible to cranes. Right now, there are no major fires in the core Whooping Crane nesting area.

Q5. How do you manage fires when they are near the Whooping Crane nesting sites?

A5. Parks Canada is a world leader in wildfire management and fire operations in the Whooping Crane nesting area are carefully managed. We are conscious that a major fire control operation in the Whooping Crane nesting area could have negative effects on the cranes or their nesting habitat and we manage fires in ways that minimize the effect on the cranes.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers appreciates the assistance with this interview by Tim Gauthier Partnering, Engagement and Communications Officer, Wood Buffalo National Park.

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***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
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