08/24/2012 03:08 EDT | Updated 10/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Northern B.C. fires good for endangered wood bison

Forest fires in northeastern B.C. aren't all bad news, according to ecologists who hope the flames will open up new grazing land for endangered wood bison.

Landscape ecologist Sonja Leverkus is studying the relationship between forest fires and wood bison near Fort Nelson.

She says right now, the bison spend the majority of their time within 100 metres of the Alaska Highway.

"It's open and there's really great forage growing there. It's kind of like the Swiss chocolate at the moment."

She says five to 15 animals are killed on the Alaska Highway each year — a significant number for a threatened species.

"We're really hoping with fire that we can create these more open areas for them to graze in. Fire also increases forage production, as well makes the vegetation more palatable and better as far as the nutrition goes."

The Dene have used fires to create prime grazing land for generations, says Lana Lowe, the lands director for the Fort Nelson First Nation.

"There's a lot of smiles on people's faces when we hear about forest fires because we know that brings more moose and more food plants and medicine plants."

There are more than a dozen forest fires burning in the Fort Nelson area.

Two fires in the Capot-Blanc area, north-west of Fort Nelson, are a combined 6,085 hectares, but are not near any homes or buildings.

The Pesh fire, northeast of Fort Nelson, has burned almost 8,700 hectares and is within three kilometres of a gas plant. Three hundred people living nearby and in camps are on evacuation alert.