Fire burns prime habi­tat for vole

Re­searchers scurry to save Amar­gosa species

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - NEVADA - By Henry Brean Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal

Re­searchers are as­sess­ing the dam­age af­ter a wild­fire near the Cal­i­for­nia-ne­vada bor­der burned through crit­i­cal habi­tat for one of North Amer­ica’s most en­dan­gered ro­dents.

Mon­day’s light­ning-sparked blaze near Te­copa, Cal­i­for­nia, 85 miles south­west of Las Ve­gas, scorched 27 acres of spring-fed wet­lands be­fore fire­fight­ers could ex­tin­guish the flames.

Janet Fo­ley, a vet­eri­nary pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis, said the fire burned 10 to 20 per­cent of the re­main­ing nat­u­ral habi­tat for the Amar­gosa vole, a small, brown crit­ter found nowhere else in the wild.

“It’s not good,” Fo­ley said. “It burned two full marshes with lots of voles in them. Our hope is some of them es­caped to an­other habi­tat patch.”

She said a mem­ber of her re­search team is headed to Te­copa to ex­am­ine the burned area and check the neigh­bor­ing marshes for any re­cent ar­rivals.

Fo­ley is co-leader of the “vole team,” a species re­cov­ery group that in­cludes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment, U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Fish and Wildlife, UC Davis, the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, and the Amar­gosa Con­ser­vancy.

The mouse-like ro­dent with the round body and dis­tinc­tive white beard was first de­scribed by nat­u­ral­ists in the late 1800s. De­struc­tion of its na­tive marshes by early set­tlers just east of Death Val­ley led sci­en­tists to de­clare the an­i­mal ex­tinct in the early 1900s.

The species was re­dis­cov­ered in the late 1970s and listed as en­dan­gered by the state of Cal­i­for­nia and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in the early 1980s.

There are thought to be only a few hun­dred voles left in the wild. “It’s def­i­nitely fewer than 500,” Fo­ley said.

No place to go

Ef­forts to save the species ac­quired new ur­gency in re­cent years, as drought and hu­man dis­tur­bance led to a dra­matic de­cline in the ro­dent’s core habi­tat around Te­copa. That prompted an emer­gency col­lec­tion of 20 ju­ve­nile voles in July 2014 amid con­cern the an­i­mals could be gone for­ever in as lit­tle as a year.

Those voles have been breed­ing at Fo­ley’s lab at UC Davis ever since, pro­duc­ing a sta­ble cap­tive pop­u­la­tion of around 100 an­i­mals — enough to al­low the team to con­duct a few ex­per­i­men­tal re­leases in the wild.

Fo­ley and com­pany are also try­ing to re­store the bul­rush marshes that used to grow in Shoshone, Cal­i­for­nia, about seven miles to the north, so voles can be rein­tro­duced to that area as early as next year.

As it stands now, the en­tire species is con­fined to an area that could be de­stroyed by a sin­gle large wild­fire or a sud­den loss of wa­ter in the marshes around Te­copa, Fo­ley said.

“That’s why the Shoshone restora­tion is so crazy im­por­tant,” she said. “There’s not any other place for them to go.”

Fo­ley said Mon­day’s fire was re­ported at about 3:30 p.m. by a county road worker who saw the bolt of light­ning and the flames that im­me­di­ately fol­lowed.

Fire­fight­ers from Te­copa and Pahrump quickly re­sponded and kept the fire away from homes at the edge of Te­copa.

A U.S. For­est Ser­vice crew from San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, and BLM crews from Las Ve­gas and Cal­i­for­nia halted the spread of the blaze by about 9 p.m. Mon­day. BLM field spe­cial­ist James Gannon, who helped fight the fire, said they had it fully con­tained by just be­fore 6 p.m. Tues­day.

“It’s scary,” Fo­ley said. “It could have been so much worse.”

Con­tact Henry Brean at hbrean@ re­viewjour­ or 702-383-0350. Fol­low @Re­fried­brean on Twit­ter.

OAK­LAND, Calif. — A body cam­era video shows a po­lice of­fi­cer or­der­ing the shut­down of a pos­si­ble il­le­gal rave at an Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, warehouse nearly two years be­fore a fire killed 36 par­ty­go­ers in the ram­shackle build­ing.

The video of the arts col­lec­tive known as the “Ghost Ship” was ob­tained and made pub­lic by the Bay Area News Group on Thurs­day.

“I will be talking to the city, and we’ll be deal­ing with this place,” the of­fi­cer said on the video.

Late Thurs­day, the Po­lice De­part­ment re­leased a po­lice re­port that the of­fi­cer wrote and said that it had been for­warded to the vice unit, then to the de­part­ment’s Al­co­hol Bev­er­age Ac­tion Team.

But, the de­part­ment said, such in­frac­tions at the time were viewed as low-pri­or­ity.

“Since the Ghost Ship tragedy, those poli­cies have changed,” the de­part­ment said in a state­ment.

The video shows the of­fi­cer bang­ing on the door at 1:30 a.m. on March 1, 2015, and then telling a pro­moter there were noise com­plaints and re­ports that peo­ple were pay­ing $25 to get in and drugs were be­ing sold.

The deadly fire erupted on Dec. 2, 2016, dur­ing a dance party at the warehouse where some peo­ple were il­le­gally liv­ing.

Since then, it has come to light that city and state of­fi­cials fielded years of com­plaints about danger­ous con­di­tions, drugs, ne­glected chil­dren, trash, thefts and squab­bles at the warehouse.

The March 2015 video is one of nine body cam­era record­ings that the Bay Area News Group has been seek­ing from Oak­land po­lice.

In the video, the of­fi­cer stood in the door­way talking to the party pro­moter, who re­fused him en­try.

“If I come back, I’m gonna give you a fine. It’s gonna be a very, very ex­pen­sive fine,” the of­fi­cer said.

“I’m still gonna make sure that the city knows about this place, and I’m gonna talk to the owner of this place as well.”

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