Wildfires are becoming more and more common as climate change intensifies. From Australia to California to Europe, the world watches as fires scorch the earth and change the environment every year. While humans are intensely affected by wildfires, it is vital to remember that wildlife is also heavily impacted by wildfires. After all, their homes are destroyed when fires rage through the bush, forest, and savannah. The tiniest insects to the largest ungulates experience significant life changes because of wildfires.
The most apparent consequence of wildfires on wildlife is death. Not all animals can outrun the fast-moving flames, and they perish in the inferno as it rampages through their homes. Unfortunately, flying insects are attracted to the smoke and flames and succumb in large numbers during an active fire. Larger animals, such as elk and bison, die from smoke inhalation. Elderly, injured, and slow-moving animals have a difficult time escaping and become casualties. Fires that burn during birds’ nesting season cause significant damage, as entire bird populations can be eradicated in one wildfire.
Fortunately, many forms of wildlife have self-protection instincts that can keep them safe during a wildfire. Small animals may find shelter by hiding in logs or under rocks. Birds can fly away while the burn is active and return a few hours or days later. Amphibians and reptiles often burrow in the dirt for shelter. Unburned areas adjacent to an active burn site can later provide animals with the food and shelter that have been destroyed in their original homes. There are ways for wildlife to survive and then thrive post-wildfire.
Wildfires cause an incredible amount of destruction when they blacken the earth. Wildlife is heavily affected by the blazes, whether because their homes were destroyed or because there is no longer food available. Importantly, though, wildfires can also bring about positive change to a specific environment. The damaged vegetation and carcasses provide nutrition to live animals. Downed trees and stumps provide shelter for small animals and insects. Properly managed and maintained environments can even benefit from controlled fires, as they keep the forests from getting overgrown and provide protection, food, and stability for wildlife for decades to come.
This is not the first set of wildfires in 2020; earlier this year, Australia saw a blight of bushfires. It’s time we put aside our differences and help the people and nature in need.