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Effects of Fire on Alaskan Wildlife

Are fires really that damaging?

Most of the public’s understanding about wildfires come from the media. Wildfires clearly can have negative consequences, but these reports don’t always offer the best perspective on such phenomenon. Fires are devastating only in that they can destroy buildings, homes, and kill individual humans. The “devastation” the media refers to is generally human related. For example, a fire may wreak havoc on the economy because a crop was destroyed or a lumber yard went up in flames. But from an ecological lens, fire actually benefits wildlife and animal populations, contrary to popular belief.

How can fires benefit an ecosystem?

Fires produce ash, which covers the ground and can increase fertility of the soil. Before commercial agriculture, many farmers used a crude method of subsistence agriculture that involved burning a plot of land and subsequently growing crops over it. The ashes that went into the soil enhanced the growth and development of new plants. Wildfires do a very similar thing; they burn vegetation to the ground, cultivating the soil and providing more vegetation for animals to consume and prosper with.

How quickly can an ecosystem spring back to health?

Ecosystems are actually quite resilient functions of nature. Although wildfires appear to make ash wastelands out of forests, plants and animals are surprisingly quick to resume their original living space. In fact, some wildlife begin to resettle in the affected areas immediately after the fire, even before the smoke clears. Birds are quick to re-nest within the wooded areas (or at least what is left of them) while newly grown herbs and shrubs attract Moose populations. Nonetheless, post-fire recovery depends on the severity of the fire. A more severe fire would increase the amount of time the ecosystem needs to spring back to health.

In conclusion, fires don’t have the same devastating effects on the environment that the media portrays them to have. Ecosystems are efficient in nurturing themselves back to health, and fires can in fact stimulate growth of plant and animal populations. A wildfire can be viewed as a sort of new beginning for the ecosystem. Although these fires may destroy old wildlife, they are creating new wildlife at the same time.

 

Source: National Forest Service