Wildfire! The term conjures destruction in the wilderness. It is a fire out of control that burns and consumes everything it can. A “natural force” that can be released by man that to many is just short of nuclear destruction. But is it really as devastating as it is portrayed to the environment and does it provide any benefits to wildlife habitat?
When a wildfire first goes through an area it is devastating. It destroys all the smaller vegetation and some of the large, all the food, all the insect life. The animals no longer have any place to hide and nothing to eat. The ash can get into the ponds and streams, changing acidity and often killing most of those habitats as well. A forest that has experienced a recent wildfire looks in bad shape.
But nature is resilient and can spring back, usually in the spring. The insects have mostly been removed, but many of the seeds lie dormant in the soil. Most below ground creatures will still be there, such as earthworms, wildfires have the heat go up and not down! The ashes will act as a fertilizer and help those seeds to grow. For the first few months and even a year there will be nothing there to eat them. Ironically enough, there will also be little there to pollinate them as well and so flowers may last longer.
Many animals will be attracted to the sprouting plants and birds will move back into the forest. Those creature will now find the habitat to be even healthier than it was before because there will be less ticks, mosquitoes and biting flies. These parasites all restricted the habitat before, but have been removed by the wildfire.
The aquatic habitats that were originally destroyed by the acidity of the ash will have had the plants initially die and wash away or start composting. But over time those plants start to regenerate or start anew from either plants up stream of from birds and animals. Just like with the forest, this habitat has been cleaned and will suddenly come back.
The effects of wildfire on wildlife habitats are no where near as destructive as a nuclear explosion, but the recovery takes time. They are like when one first plants ivy ” At first it sleeps, then it creeps, and then it leaps”, back better than before! Habitats recover from natural disasters, even wildfires.