Forest fires that whipped through Yellowstone National Park this summer and fall killed a very small number of the park's animals, according to Superintendent Bob Barbee.
Of the 254 large animals determined to have died in the flames, 243 were elk, four were deer, two moose and five bison, the superintendent said in releasing a survey of wildlife mortality related to the fires.Barbee said there is no evidence that black or grizzly bears within the park's boundaries were killed by fire, although a black bear that suffered burns to its paws was killed Sept. 9 by a Montana State Highway patrolman near Cooke City, Mont., to the east of the park.
"The number of ungulate (moose, bison, deer) deaths caused by the fires is a very small percentage of total wildlife populations within the park," Barbee said in a press release. "Yellowstone's elk population is currently estimated between 30,000 and 35,000 and bison and deer at 2,700 and 2,000, respectively."
Forest fires first were spotted in Yellowstone in late June. The hottest burning period came in August and early September, although several fires still are smoldering and one, the Clover-Mist blaze on the northeastern side of the park, has yet to be declared under control.
The wildlife mortality survey showed that 213 of the animal carcasses were found within the perimeter of the North Fork Fire, which was man-caused, on the west side of the park.
Most of the animals probably died of smoke inhalation on Sept. 9 when the North Fork fire was pushed by 30 mph winds, the survey said.
Along with the black bear killed near Cooke City, park officials say a bull elk with severely burned hooves was destroyed by rangers on Oct. 21 near Lava Creek near Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern end of Yellowstone.
All of the carcasses found during the survey were left "in-place" as extensive scavenging activity by bears, eagles, ravens and coyotes is continuing, according to park officials.