Wildfire poses an incredible threat to anything and anyone in its path. In 2020 alone, over 10.1 million acres were destroyed in forest fires around the United States. Homes were incinerated, families stranded, and lives lost.
Humans, however, weren’t the only ones impacted. Wildfire has drastic effects on native wildlife, including habitat destruction and resource depletion. Read on to find out how what wild animals do in a fire and how you can help.
Wildfire Impact on Wildlife
Wildfire is an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. Which goes without saying that it is a gift for some wild animals and a curse for others.
Predators and Prey
Most of us are familiar with cartoons and comic strips where the mischievous cat attempts to smoke the mouse out of its hole. Turns out this whimsical tale is not that far from the truth. Certain predator species have been seen taking advantage of wildfires.
They patrol the edges of the fire and wait for the flames and smoke to flush out prey. This is more common in areas with frequent wildfire, where predator species have learned to associate fire with a free meal.
Flight or Fight
Watching your home burn down around you would be stressful for anyone and wild animals are no exception. Most have an extrasensory perception that alters them when danger is closing in. Those that are physically able will run, fly, hop, or swim away from the wildfire.
Other animals may attempt to wait out the blaze. Larger species, such as elk often seek refuge in lakes or streams. Rodents and other small animals sometimes burrow underground or hide in rocks or fallen logs.
The wild animals most at risk of injury and death are the young and old. In the chaos and confusion baby animals are often separated from their parents.
Although people like to imagine the heartwarming Hollywood happy ending, most of the time animal families are never reunited. Even if the fire doesn’t kill them, young animals remain at risk of starvation and predation.
Certain species depend on fire-scarred areas for their habitat. Birds like the black-backed woodpecker build their nests in fire-hollowed trees. Mule deer are another wild animal that depends on early growth vegetation for their diets.
Burn areas also provide an excellent opportunity for invasive species to move in make their own claim. This leads to increased competition for resources among existing species. When a wild animal is unable to find the food and shelter necessary for survival, it will travel further afield.
This includes finding solutions outside of their natural habitat. Even in the best of times, some animals like bears will venture into residential areas in search of additional food. This not only creates a hazardous situation for the animal but the public as well.
How to Help Wildlife
Seeing the aftermath of a wildfire can be absolutely heart-wrenching. Fortunately, there are several ways that you can help the wild animals that were impacted.
Report Injured Animals
Although you might be tempted to assist injured animals yourself, it is ill-advised. Remember these are wild animals, not house pets. They are likely stressed, frightened, and in pain.
This could lead them to be more aggressive and likely to lash out in self-defense. Rather than put yourself and the animal in a potentially hazardous situation, report injured wildlife to the proper authorities.
Depending on where you live this might be the forest service or even a local zoo. The US Fish and Wildlife Service does not offer aid to injured animals but they are an excellent resource for finding wildlife rehabilitation in your state.
After a wildfire, there is a good chance that animal rehabilitation centers will be overflowing with patients. Offer to volunteer your time. Even if you don’t have any experience working with wildlife, you can assist with prepping food and cleaning out enclosures.
Helping wildlife can be done indirectly as well. Volunteer your time to plant trees or spend a weekend performing habitat restoration. These projects not only provide animals with new places to live, but they help prevent erosion and flooding.
Some of the animals injured in wildfires are never able to return to the wild. They will require lifelong captive care, which can be quite costly. Many wildlife rehabilitation centers and zoos depend heavily on third-party donations.
This includes money, food, blankets, medical supplies, and more. Before sending random donations, it is always a good idea to check and see what the rehab facility is most in need of.
Help Prevent Bushfires
One of the best ways you can help protect wildlife from wildfire is by practicing good fire safety when out in nature. Follow local rules and avoid building campfires in dry conditions or near heavy debris. Use existing fire pits whenever possible and make sure there is a 10ft clear radius surrounding your fire.
Don’t leave your fire unattended. Make sure to fully extinguish it with sand, dirt, or water before leaving or going to bed. Remember even hot coals pose a potential hazard.
Fight Fire With Fire
Becoming a wildland firefighter is not for the faint of heart, but it is one way that you can help protect innocent lives, including wildlife. Wildland firefighters are responsible for damage control. They take the battle to the source and work to prevent further habitat destruction.
Being a wildland fight fighter brings you in closer contact with affected wildlife. As you assess burned areas and check for residual hot spots you might come across injured wildlife. This is the perfect time to use your portable radio to request help.
Protect Wildlife from Wildfires
Some wild animals need wildfire to survive, while others run and cower in fear. Either way, after a forest fire many animals are left injured, afraid, and homeless. From volunteering your time to dedicating yourself to fighting fires, there are countless ways for you to help.
Make sure you’re prepared when the time comes. Portable radios from BK Radio are an essential piece of gear for every wildland firefighter.
Contact us today to get a price quote for your team.