Since May 29th, wildfires have ravaged parts of Arizona. The Wallow fire raging on the Arizona/New Mexico border, has burned 800 square miles and recently edged close enough to force evacuations in Luna, New Mexico. Despite being the largest wild fire in Arizona history, the flames have consumed 32 homes/vacation cabins in contrast with Arizona’s other wildfire, the Monument fire in the south. The Monument fire has consumed 42 homes. While the focus during wildfires is understandably on containing the blazes and maintaining public safety, many also look at how these fires will affect Arizona wildlife.
Wildfires can occur anywhere and often game and fish officials look to history to plan and evaluate the effects of theses natural occurrences/disasters. It’s important to remember that mother nature has plans of her own and many wildfires are natural in cause. Animals have learned to adapt to many emergencies, including wildfires and are much better equipped for evacuation then their human counterparts. Still, fires can cause displacement for species already having to give up too much living space to man.
The greatest indicator for a fire’s affect on wildlife is the intensity at which it burns, the size and range and the season when it occurs. These factors focus mostly on the botany of the land, which indirectly affects the wildlife in the area. Without food, shelter and water, the animals have little chance for survival and are forced to new land.
The intensity at which a fire burns impacts the long term damage left on the land. Fires that move swiftly and at lower intensity may simply scar the the area with singed tree, lightly burned bark and burning of forest floor leaves and needles. These types of fires can actually leave the area in better condition by forcing new growth and clearing out small suckers and weaker trees. While temporarily displaced, animals can return to find a more abundant living situation in a short amount of time. Fiercer, more intense burning blazes can devour areas leaving little evidence of what once stood as the eco-system for several hundred species of animals. Animals return to find nothing and are forced to find permanent residency in new areas, possibly even closer to humans.
Going along with intensity is the size of a wild fire. Pretty self explanatory, larger fires will impact wildlife greatly taking away areas for them to evacuate to. Depending on the shape of a fire, escape can be hindered if animals become trapped within a fire which quickly changes direction before animals are able to sense the heat and danger ahead.
La Nina, Arizona is currently dealing with a late monsoon season which would usually have brought more moisture into the state. While the monsoon usually begins in July running through September, this year shows a drier summer. Fires that occur in wetter months may lesson the fuel needed for it to rage and keep the fire from growing and spreading.
While wildfires can be caused by lightening strikes, the far more tragic situations are brought about by man. To save wildlife and keep animals from harm, prevention is the key to lowering the instances of wildfires, especially during the dry summer months. While homes and people are the main priority, even those being evacuated worry about the futures of the surrounding forests. Throughout Arizona, many communities have learned to live in harmony with mother nature, but a forest fire hurts all of the planet’s interconnected species.
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