Research Round 2 - How should government funding be used for the prevention of wildfires?

Hi everyone!  

In my last round of research, I did research on what wildfires are exactly; how they work, what can cause them and factors that raise the intensity of the fire, just so I have a better understanding of them before I continue on to what kind of impact they have on the environment. For this round of research, I will investigate their impact on vegetation and wildlife, both the negative and positive effects. 

Negative effects of wildfires on vegetation and wildlife 

- Depending on the frequency and severity of it, wildfires may have devastating effects on ecosystems (1, 2, 3). 

- Wildfires may destroy the vegetation and take away the habitats of wildlife (2, 4). It can disrupt the critical relationships between many plants and animals of the area, which can lead to a loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. By altering or killing the plant life that support so much wildlife, the fire is forcing the animals out of their habitat or is even killing them (2).  

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- Repeated wildfires will upset the natural cycles of forests by removing many native plant species and encouraging fire-resistant plants and other invasive plant species to grow there instead. Since some of those invasive plant species are extremely flammable, they will induce a continuous cycle in which the risk of future wildfires is elevated and will likely further destroy the native plant species (1). 

- Many animals are killed or injured in wildfires (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Any animal is at risk of being killed in a fire, regardless of whether they are a new-born, a parent, or an animal without young too. New-borns are at a high risk of being killed since they don’t have much strength to flee, and their parents’ escape is in turn, delayed (7). The animals who have the highest risk of being killed in a wildfire are smaller animals such as birds, squirrels, rabbits, and snakes (2, 4, 9). Although it is not useful in the case of a fire, porcupines will climb up trees since it is their first reaction when there is danger. Squirrels will also scurry up to the top of trees. Meanwhile, burrowing animals who don’t dig deep enough may end up dying from being cooked in their burrows (7, 8). How likely an animal is to die from a fire depends on their species’ defence mechanisms. Birds of prey might be able to fly away and make it out just fine, but smaller birds that fly lower down in the sky might die from smoke inhalation or exhaustion (7). 

 

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Positive effects of wildfires on vegetation and wildlife 

- While fires certainly have negative impacts on wildlife and vegetation, there are also many positive effects of wildfires as they are actually a part of the natural cycle in ecosystems (5, 6, 7, 8). 

- There are certain trees and plants that depend on wildfires to bring conditions for germination (5, 6, 9). They may do so by heating up the soil and cracking seed coats which causes germination (5). Plants such as the flower Corydalis sempervirens need strong sunshine to grow and will only germinate once exposed to the heat from fires (6). The heat can also stimulate fungi such as morel mushrooms to release spores (9). Certain trees such as jack pine and lodgepole depend on the heat from a fire to open their cones and allow germination (6, 9). Kirtland’s warblers, small songbirds from MIchigan, nest in jack pine forests so if these trees don’t reproduce with the help of fires, these birds will lose a big part of their habitat. Therefore, if there aren’t any fires, some organisms wouldn’t be capable of reproduction, and anything that relies on them will be impacted (9). 

- The period right after a wildfire is very important to some plants and wildlife. Animals such as deer, moose and elk that eat small shrubs like grasses and flowers are provided food in this period after a fire since there is then more room for the sunlight to reach the bottom of the forest to help the growth of the smaller plants that may not get enough sunshine and disappear when the forest grows back (5, 6, 7, 8). 

- Even the dead standing trees and hollowed out logs that result from wildfires are useful to some wildlife. These dead hollowed out trees and logs provide good nesting spots and comfortable shelters for small animals (5, 7) such as woodpeckers, and many will move in (7). 

 

So, as you can see, wildfires can have quite devastating effects on the surrounding vegetation and wildlife, but wildfires also play an important role for some species of plants and animals. This raises some questions: how much do we want to be preventing wildfires? That is, to what extent do we try to stop them from happening? Is it better to just let them happen naturally? Or maybe it would be better to allow them to occur, except find a way to control them more closely in a way that we can reduce the negative impact they have? 

 

That’s all for this week! Next time, I will be researching the impact of wildfires on the surrounding water and soil. Any ideas, comments or websites are appreciated. Thanks for reading! 

 

Sources: 

(1) https://greenconduct.com/blog/...ces-of-forest-fires/ 

(2) https://www.eartheclipse.com/e...ts-of-wildfires.html 

(3) http://ecosystem-management.ne...mpact-on-ecosystems/  

(4) https://www.conserve-energy-fu...ons-of-wildfires.php 

(5) https://www.environment.nsw.go...nts-animals-and-fire  

(6) https://news.ubc.ca/1998/08/13...1998-98aug13-feller/  

(7) https://www.macleans.ca/news/c...e-wild-things-are-2/  

(8) https://reducing-suffering.org...ld-animal-suffering/  

(9) https://news.nationalgeographi...ion-forests-science/ 

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Original Post

Hey Jessica, 

Very interesting post on the positive and negative effects on the impact of wildfires. Personally, I always saw wildfire as a negative impact because it's a factor in some countries that can lead animals to extinction. After seeing both sides of the argument, I can see the positives: however, to answer your question I believe we should put a lot of funding into the prevention of wildfires. This past summer we had major wildfires that effect many peoples lives since their houses were burned down and they were evacuated with little time to gather their belongings. I'm excited to read your next post on the soil and water because I've never heard much about fire underground in the soil. Perhaps in the end, you could figure out exactly which sector of wild fire prevention deserves the most attention. Is it wildlife and vegetation or water and soil? Here are some links to hopefully help you out. 

http://www2.nau.edu/~gaud/bio300w/frsl.htm

https://www.sciencedirect.com/...ii/S0012825214001585

hi Jessica,

I think this is a very important topic especially since the last couple of hot summers we've had  and the huge number of fires as a result.  I have never really considered that there are positive impacts they can.  I guess i have just always focused more on the impacts on people.  I understand what completely what you mean by wondering of we should even prevent them because it is a natural thing that does do some good, and if there weren't humans i would totally agree.  But i think now a days looking at the terrible losses people face from fires, for example the huge one in fort Mcmurry a couple years ago, that we must prevent wildfires.  Either way though i really liked that you did the positive impacts, my thoughts were just another perspective to help with your conclusion for the end.

anyway here are a few websites that can hopefully help on your next round:

https://ca.water.usgs.gov/wild...s-water-quality.html

https://www.theglobeandmail.co...ity/article30512613/

Good luck and great research!

Hey Jessica!

You know am so much fascinated by the part I never saw every time wildfire hits my sight. The realization that wildfire is not entirely destructive is intriguing. Its practical in life as well, maybe we tend to look on the negative side of every situation and end up being blinded of the positive part. When some vegetation burn, they give chance for others to grow. Could the principle be true for every other living organism as far as the ecosystem is concerned? That some have to perish for others to survive? If the merits of wildfires would be compared to the demerits, can the resultant comparison be a factor to be used when determining how much the government should invest in fighting the fires? 

Well in your next round, I know of something related to your research that apparently happens here in Kenya. Nomadic communities in Kenya are basically known for the kind of life they live and their love for livestock keeping. The latter have occasionally been blamed for starting bush fires. Here is why: once fire has burnt down every vegetation, ( and I have seen this myself) the immediate grass that grows is so pretty, green and favorable to the livestock, hence their reason for doing that. Maybe burning the vegetation enriches the soil with acids, chemicals and humus.

Well I bet  I will find out more in your next round.

Hey Jessica,

I found your research particularly interesting! I had no idea that wildfires had not only devastating negative impacts but, also, they help to benefit species in germination and the like! To me, I think we always associate wildfires with the idea of complete devastation, chaos, and utter destruction. However, your research has shed a new light on that for me.

This could easily be related to a number of other topics (mainly how devastation can sometimes birth something beautiful), but specifically, I think it would be neat if you looked into global warming and how that's impacting this process. Namely, are the populations of these fire-germinated species becoming more numerous? Are other populations dying out due to frequent wildfires? Are these wildfires too intense to benefit even those that need wildfires?

Keep up the good work, I definitely look forward to seeing what you find next

-Joanna

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