As the wildfires in the western U.S. get worse, experts are trying to figure out how these big fires are affecting the survival of species and their homes, both for better and for worse.
Some 100 species that were studied in the Sierra Nevada, southern Cascades, and Klamath regions of California are having very bad weather in more than 10% of their areas, according to a new study.
The study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that fires destroyed between 15% and 30% of the habitats of about 50 species out of the more than 600 that were looked at in the Golden State.
The researchers found that 16 of the animals that live in areas with a lot of fire are thought to be species of concern. Four of these are the northern rubber boa, the great gray owl, and the wolverine.
Ayars, lead author and from the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Center, said in a statement, “Our goal was to take a broad look to get a better understanding of how these kinds of fires affect wildlife habitat as a whole.”
The places in California that were badly damaged by wildfires in 2020 and 2021 were chosen by Ayars and her colleagues because the state “experienced fire activity unlike anything recorded in the modern record.”
The study found that after the smoke cleared, the amount of forest burnt was 10 times greater than the yearly average going back to the late 1800s. The writers said that nearly half of the forests that burned had high-severity fires that killed 75% to 100% of the plants and that the fires often spread over large, continuous areas.
The study found that about 5 to 14 percent of the ranges of the 50 species that had fires in 15 to 30 percent of their areas were very badly burned. The long-toed salamander was able to survive high-severity fires in more of its area than any other species studied.
The authors said that populations can drop for up to twenty years after a fire. However, the researchers were somewhat hopeful that the fires were not particularly affecting species that need to be protected, which means that their habitats could be acting as a safe haven for these animals.
Concerning the 16 species that were in danger and were affected by wildfires, the authors said that some animals, like great gray owls, might benefit from fires because they create new places for them to hunt.
Still, they said that it is not known if that benefit applies to such a big change in climate in such a short amount of time. “Because each species is unique, this study gives others a good place to start to study a single species of interest or a small group of species that live in similar areas,” Ayars said.