1229315693

1229315693

A distressed deer runs on burt ground at the Blue Ridge Fire in Chino, California, October 27, 2020. - Two wind-driven wildfires in southern California continue their race toward populated areas, forcing 100,000 residents to evacuate and choking much of the region with smokey unhealthy air. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Photo by: ROBYN BECK

ROBYN BECK

How the West Coast’s Wildfires Could Irrevocably Change Wildlife

By: Lucy Sherriff

Wildfires have swept across the West Coast of America this year with devastating consequences. Burning millions of acres of land in their wake, the fires have not just wreaked havoc on forests, but could have a long-lasting impact on numerous wildlife species too.

November 18, 2020

The biggest effect wildfires have on wildlife habitats is by altering the three key things that animals need to survive: food, water, and shelter.

“Tender understory plants and shrubs that provide food are lost, and this loss often results in wildlife moving away to areas where food, water, and shelter are more readily available,” a paper written by Yvonne Barkley, associate extension forester at the University of Idaho noted.

“When large animal mortality does occur, it is usually from smoke inhalation in very large, very fast-moving fires,” she added. “Wildfires burning during the nesting season are most damaging.”

Pacific Northwestern Trauma

1279238063

1279238063

OAKLAND, CA - OCT. 8: Veterinary technician Linden West steadies Captain Cal, a six-week old mountain lion cub, during an examination for severe burn injuries at the Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Captain Cal, named by the Cal Fire firefighters that rescued him, was found injured and alone during the Zogg Fire in Shasta County. (Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Photo by: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Smaller mammals and many birds leave their habitat, while reptiles can avoid the direct effect by burrowing into the soil. It’s the larger animals with limited mobility that live above ground who are most vulnerable to fire-caused injury and death.

Fish and other aquatic organisms can find themselves without any livable habitat at all, as runoff from fires impact water chemistry, rendering lakes and ponds unlivable. Fish moving away or even dying off following fires are not uncommon.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, it is too early to say just how this year’s 17 fires in the state will have impacted fish and wildlife populations.

One blaze alone — the Lionshead Fire — burned more than 200,000 acres, and some fires continue to burn.

“ODFW will be assessing the impact in the coming weeks and months,” a statement from the department said.

The Damage is Done in CA

1283602530

1283602530

ORANGE, CA - OCTOBER 28: A Great Horned Owl named Winston just before he"u2019s released back into his habitat at the OC Zoo at the Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 after he was sheltered at the Santa Ana Zoo during the Silverado Fire. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Photo by: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

In California, more than four million acres have burned. Large animals even received treatment for their burns, such as one 370-pound black bear injured in the North Complex Fire.

So many animals were injured that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife teamed up with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to create a program to help them, called the Wildlife Disaster Network.

Scientists had to get creative and employed innovative treatments such as a bandage made from fish skin that protects burn wounds and accelerates healing.

Another animal, “Captain Cal”, a mountain lion kitten was found burned, underweight, dehydrated, and with multiple infections. He was treated at Oakland Zoo, which is also part of the network.

Dr Alex Herman, who works at the zoo, described the damage to wildlife as “catastrophic”.

"I think Captain Cal's situation is such a visible, tangible, poignant reminder of the climate change crisis that we're in California right now,” he said. “And a reminder to all of us that there's a lot we can do and we can really mobilize to address this situation."

Even if animals do survive, when they return to their habitat, it can be difficult for them to survive, and so may migrate elsewhere.

However, wildfires can benefit some species that depend on young forest habitat, which will come in the aftermath of fire destruction.

Species such as woodpeckers, reptiles, deer, elk, and bears can thrive — and even increase in numbers — following a fire.

But, as Oregon’s wildlife department pointed out, only time will tell.

Next Up

Australia Bushfires: How to Help

Help Discovery support victims and animals affected by devastating bushfires.

How COVID-19 Revived the World’s Addiction to Plastic

Surgical masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles – all the most sought-after items in the coronavirus pandemic have one thing in common: plastic. So what does this temporary shift to single-use plastics mean for the environment and the world’s anti-plastic pledge?

Experts Say Plan Now for Pet Separation Anxiety

For many people, the silver lining of the pandemic is the time we've been able to spend with our furry friends. But, as places begin to open up, the separation will be hard. Here are a few ways to get your pet ready for the time when you go back to work.

10 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Save the Earth

From a very young age we are taught the 3 'Rs;' REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. Here are just a few things you can do around your home to take care of our planet on Earth Day and beyond.

Monkeys Steal COVID-19 Tests

During the pandemic, these primates in India have taken “Monkey Business” to a whole new level.

The Legend of the Black Mamba

How a snake inspired Kobe Bryant’s beloved nickname.

New Reef Discovery in Australia is a Once in a Century Find

Scientists have studied this species-rich ecosystem for more than 100 years, so the discovery of a towering 1,600 foot coral reef is one of the great finds of the century.

A Woolly Rhino was the Last Meal of a Prehistoric Puppy

Russian Scientists are hypothesizing that the last living Woolly Rhino was eaten as the last meal of a puppy!

Take a Safari at Home

The San Diego Zoo is streaming some of their awesome animals-- LIVE!

6 Tips for Happy and Healthy Dogs

This week is Canine Enrichment Week on DogTV. Here are 6 quick tips on how to give your pup a full life.