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Scientists worry about ecological damage from mountain fires

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Updated: 7/11/2013 10:38 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSVN & MyNews3) -- Every time you look up at Mount Charleston, it's clear this fire is forever changing the landscape there.

The fire is taking its toll on nature above and possibly even below ground.

Scientists are keeping an eye on what the fire is doing to the ecology of Mount Charleston.

As Carpenter 1 lingers on the mountain, it's possibly encroaching on more than homeowners' properties, it's moving in on wildlife that calls the Spring Mountains home."

So we are concerned from a conservation standpoint that there's going to be significant habitat loss from the fire," said wildlife biologist Jenny Ramirez.

Scientists aren't sure yet of the impact the fire is having on the Mt. Charleston Blue Butterfly, because of the intensity of the fire and the smoke.

"There's a saying that nature is not just complex, it's more complex than we think and so there's a lot of things that we don't recognize the utilitarian value until later. But the Mt. Charleston Blue in of itself is, of itself, very special and very unique. It's part of the American heritage," said Corey Kallstrom of U.S. Fish and Wildlife of Las Vegas.

While some wildlife may be able to escape, like birds other animals like the Palmers Chipmunk aren't as swift.

"This fire in a lot of areas is doing a low intensity burn which is basically taking everything out of the understory including all the woodpiles that they are denning in, and so even if the Palmers Chipmunk had managed to run out of the way, when they come back into the area, they may not have denning habitat available for them," Ramirez said.

From chipmunks to trees, residents are concerned about the burning of the Bristle Cone Pines. Biologist Jenny Ramirez says some have been touched by fire along the Charleston Ridge, but flames were interrupted by a meadow so plenty of trees have been preserved.

Preservation of history is another matter. In the mountains there are precious Piute artifacts that may be exposed after the fire. Archaeologists are concerned looters will come in.

"So we will lose everything that is on a site. If they find a rock shelter they will literally scour it out and dig out the ground looking for pottery, looking for beads, looking for anything they can sell for monetary value," said Archaeologist Kelly Turney.

Some of those archaeological sites in the mountains date back to 13,000 years or more.

Scientists here say looting sites for artifacts is a big problem throughout the world.
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