A disaster area

There’s an old Dire Straits song about how some days you’re the windshield, and some days you’re the bug. During this past fire season, Elko County, once again, got to be the splattered moth on the Windshield of Fate.

I spoke with Chris Healy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife to get his take on the outrageously huge fires this summer out in the rugged and stunningly beautiful northeast corner of the state. His response was quick and to the point. “Disaster. Major disaster.”

For those of us who have spent any time in the wilds of Elko County, which pretty much is the northeast corner of the state, this is sad news. Very sad news. Because the numbers Healy whips out to make his case do indeed sound disastrous.

There’s a section of Elko County called Area 6. This has nothing to do with weird government air bases and that kind of stuff. It’s a bunch of hunting zones that lie north of I-80 up to the Idaho border and west of State Highway 225 to the Humboldt County line. If you don’t know 225, that’s the road that heads north out of Elko up to Wildhorse Reservoir, Mountain City and, eventually, Boise. Anyway, it’s a big chunk of land, about 4.5 million acres in all, containing some of the finest hunting, fishing, ranching and camping country in Nevada. This past summer, 700,000 acres of Area 6 got incinerated, roughly 15 percent of it. Combined with the other huge fires that have wasted Area 6 since ‘99, a full one-third of this region—or about 1.5 million acres—have been burned. So yeah, it’s not overstating the situation to say that this summer in Area 6, which includes the Independence and Bull Run Mountains, was indeed a disaster.

It’s bad enough to where the D.O.W. has decided to have an emergency deer hunt, pronto. This will be a hunt for does, and the department estimates it needs to kill off at least 1,000 of them. It’s either that or watch ’em starve this winter because the fires torched so much of the winter range down in the valleys and lowlands. If you want to get a quick tag, it’s an Internet-only deal via ndow.org. They’ve already had an emergency antelope hunt up there for the same reason.

Obviously, this vast burn can’t be good news for the sage grouse up there in the Elko zone. Speaking of which, I just ran across a bin a few days ago in outer Washoe County—a bin in which hunters are to deposit the wings of the sage grouse they’ve bagged. Now, if sage grouse numbers are so low that there are ongoing discussions about listing it as an endangered species, why the hell is the state allowing hunters to go out there and kill ’em? I mean, how about giving the poor bastards a break for a couple of seasons? Or is that kind of thinking a bit too … reasonable?