First Comprehensive Look At Effects of 2020-2021 California Megafires on Terrestrial Wildlife Habitat


The only thing constant is change – isn’t that how the saying goes? 

The only thing constant is change – isn’t that how the saying goes? We know that wildlife in western forests evolved with changing habitat and disturbances like wildfire. Each species responds differently, some benefiting from openings, others losing critical habitat. What we don’t know is how increasing fire severity at large scales is impacting their habitat and survival, because many species are not adapted to these types of “megafires.” Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Research Station set about finding some answers. They summarize their findings in “The 2020 to 2021 California megafires and their impacts to wildlife habitat," a paper that published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Why California and why this time period? In 2020 and 2021, California experienced fire activity unlike anything recorded in the modern record. When the smoke cleared, the amount of burned forest totaled ten times more than the annual average going back to the late 1800s. Nearly half of the forests that burned experienced high-severity fire, killing 75-100% of the vegetation, and much of this fire covered large continuous areas, rather than a patchy mosaic. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife curates a comprehensive wildlife database, mapping habitat suitability of hundreds of species across the state. Coupling that with Forest Service records of wildfires and some fancy computer footwork gave researchers an opportunity to take a broad look at how these types of “megafires” are shaping wildlife habitat within the state.

Jessalyn Ayars, the lead author, said, “Our intent was to take a broad look to gain a better understanding of the impacts of these kinds of fires on wildlife habitat as a whole.” She continued, “and since each species is different, this study provides a good jumping-off point for others to be able to focus on a single species of interest or small group of species that share similar habitats.”

Read more at USDA Forest Service - Rocky Mountain Research Station

Photo Credit: CharlVera via Pixabay