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09.02.09

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The Breakdown:

Why critters flock to ash from a wildfire.

By Curtis Cartier


People may see the 7,800 acres of charred trees and scorched soil left behind by the Lockheed Fire as a lifeless black stain on the landscape. But for animals like birds, deer and wild pigs, the ashen countryside looks more like the latest all-inclusive health spa, complete with the best grooming chemicals that the forest has in stock.

"Within a few days of a burn, when the danger of the fire has passed, you'll almost always see the deer come down and roll in the ash," says Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Ranger Gary Brennan. "They do it to get rid of their ticks and mites and fleas. The ash is acidic and it's really the best way animals have of getting rid of pests and parasites. There's also new growth that comes up quickly after a fire, so you'll see the animals come to roll around and dust themselves with the ash, and also to have something to munch on."

Brennan, also a hunter, says that hanging around recently burned patches of forest is a tried-and-true hunting trick, and that almost all animals that have skin parasites use the ash therapy. Breakdown, for one, isn't too surprised. After all, people have been paying big bucks for years to be dipped in volcanic mud. Animals, it seems, simply do it on the cheap.


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