California wildfires create lasting damage for wildlife and ecosystems

By KENDRA BURDICK

Animals’ ability to see and breathe are being harshly affected by the fires that are sparking in California, along with their sources of food and shelter  being burned to ashes. While fire retardant appears to be a solution, it has the potential to create more harm than good for animals. 

The fire retardant that California uses kills fish, feeds harmful algae blooms, encourages the spread of invasive plants, and alters the chemistry of the soil.

The non-profit global organization International Fund for Animal Welfare is dedicated to rescuing animals and alerting the public about animal harm.

“North Complex wildfire in California that left more than 318,000 acres burned and displaced local wildlife like deer, bears and coyotes,” ifaw states. 

They explain how wildfires burn different plastics and non-natural materials and the residue of this has heavy run-off of toxins that can contaminate bodies of water. This means animals in the water and those who drink from that water source are killed.

These statistics are a combination of wildfires responded to by CAL FIRE in both the Local Responsibility Area and the State Responsibility Area under contract with the department, as well as federal fire agencies reported in the National Situation Report. (KENDRA BURDICK/ Ethic News image)

The Cal Fire website, a government site of fire records accessible to the public, states “These fires have claimed at least seven humans and an unreported and inconceivable number of foxes, rabbits, deer, frogs, mice, coyotes, and other animals who were smoked out of their homes and burned alive,” explaining that with all of the fires animals are dying and being endangered.

If the animals didn’t die from the fires then they died from their habitats being destroyed. Food sources are often contaminated or destroyed during wildfires, leaving animals with no choice but to enter new territories beyond their home range. As the animals travel in search of food and habitat, they are at risk of additional threats like vehicles running them over or hitting them, attacks from domestic pets kept by humans, and new predators that they haven’t met before.

Ecologists begin to fear that the fires could inflict lasting damage on species and ecosystems tying in with the Climate Clock, the clock that tells humans when the climate damage is irreversible, and the science behind it. In particular, the ecologists worry about the loss of habitat and how that could imperil species with small restricted ranges or populations, and that incinerated ecosystems will fail to rebound in a warming climate. This could end up leading to permanent landscape changes.

“We are in uncharted territory here, and we just don’t know how resilient species and ecosystems will be to wildfires of the magnitude, frequency, and intensity that we are currently experiencing in the U.S. West,” says S. Mažeika Patricio Sullivan, an ecologist at the Ohio State University, Columbus.

Rob Jordan of Stanford News explains how the study “Stanford Wood Institute for the Environment” says that “We need to start with a focus on people and communities: reduce the flammability of existing homes, invest in fuel breaks and similar natural fire-prevention infrastructure around communities, and restore a lower intensity fire regime in California wildlands.”

All of these fires that are sparking in California are hurting animals and burning their habitats, and the way we stop the fires is hurting everything even worse. Though, if California contacts the people and gets them to reduce the flammability, humans might be able to save these animals and habitats.

Feature image: KENDRA BURDICK/Ethic News image

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