London Zoo: Wildfires also have an impact on wild animals | Local
The javelinas in our Cheshire neighborhood and the large number of deer and elk spotted along Highway 180 are predictable results of the Pipeline Fire and other fires burning tens of thousands of forest acres on Flagstaff’s mountains. Humans are not the only species affected by wildfires. Though they don’t receive official evacuation orders, animals live in a perpetual state of “Ready” and “Set”, and the recent fires, like many previous burns, caused many animals to “Go” to flee the danger.
It is a sad truth that not all animals make it out of a fire, but having evolved in the southwest where fires are a natural part of life, they do have ways to survive it. Deer, elk, squirrels, coyotes, foxes, javelinas and many other mammals do all they can to outrun it. Birds and insects can fly away from it to achieve at least temporary safety. Lots of small animals such as spiders, lizards, insects, snakes and mice take cover under rocks or in streams if they are present. Many animals can burrow into the soil and wait it out until the fire is no longer burning in that particular spot.
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All of these strategies — running, flying, hiding and burrowing — are more likely to be effective with historically normal fires that burn the undergrowth and smolder at the bases of trees than with high intensity catastrophic canopy fires that are more extensive, move more quickly, and burn much hotter.
Severe fires are generally bad news for animals, both in the short term and in the long term. Sadly, many animals are burned, injured or killed directly by the fire or during their attempts to flee from it, but it’s not just the flames and smoke that pose a danger to them. Fleeing animals are vulnerable to hunger, dehydration, and the unfavorable conditions of an area that is not as suitable to them as the area they fled. They are also at risk of being taken by predators and in danger from traffic, too.
The loss of habitat, including resources such as food, water, nesting sites and shelter can cause further deaths and population declines. Localized populations with small ranges are especially vulnerable. In larger, more widespread populations, although certain individuals don’t survive, the effect on the population may not be critical.
Though fire is generally harmful to animals, there are exceptions. Some predators such as hawks and bears feast on fleeing rodents or other prey. Many species of insects lay eggs in the dead wood which is plentiful after fires. Woodpeckers feed on these insects and nest in the dead wood, so they often flourish following a fire. Deer benefit as new growth appears because they feed on the grasses that are among the first plants to grow after a burn.
Wildfires are a source of tremendous change to the landscape, both during and after fires. The effects on animals depend on whether the disturbance takes away what they need to survive or offers them new opportunities to thrive.
Karen B London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and an author of six books on canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.
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