Monday, July 25, 2011

Rio Salado Fire Threatens Monarch Butterfly Habitat

I found myself holding my breath when I opened the email from the City of Phoenix at Rio Salado this afternoon while the sinking feeling in my stomach grew. There was a fire over the weekend in the monarch habitat - was I available for an initial assessment? Much of the protective tree canopy burned, but the newly planted milkweed habitat appeared unscathed. While we tried to decide a time for a team meeting, I offered to run down this afternoon to walk the area and get a better sense of the damage.

 As I was walking from the parking lot I ran into Lee, the Manager of Trendwoods, Inc. The fire had jumped the fence and devoured nearby wood pallets in the shipping area and also destroyed a shed. Today trucks were removing charred debris but the smell of smoke saturated the air. Lee wanted to experience the fire damage from Rio Salado's side. So we explored the northern part of the waterfall area. Our first glimpse was the blackened, scorched trees and nearby devastation. The flames seemed to burn very hot consuming everything in its path.

The fire moved North towards the creek, but embers likely flew over nearby, untouched trees jumping to the Trendwoods yard.

I continued down the East side of the habitat to see the affected areas and to get a better handle on the degree of damage to the habitat. This is the view standing at the waterfall and looking North - all the nearby trees are burned, most a total loss.

Looking West, the fire scoured the immediate area along the creek, but just to the South and also further West the habitat was spared. Some of the Arizona Milkweed planted along the creek burned, but a few survived. All of this contrasts with the lush oasis once nestled along the banks in cottonwood and willow trees.

Yet the area South of the tree canopy looks untouched and the milkweed is flourishing. Nearby trees are lush and inviting.

It will take time to complete all the assessments and decide on a plan to restore the monarch butterfly overwintering area in downtown Phoenix. But together we can replant and rebuild an inviting area for monarchs to stay when they arrive to stay in November. More soon about how YOU can be part of this restoration effort.

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