B.C. wildfires a silver lining for some wildlife
'A lot of shrubs come back in, which are really good for elk, moose and deer in the wintertime'
It's B.C.'s worst wildfire season in six decades, but some ecosystems in the Interior will benefit from the fires, says a wildlife biologist.
"What wildfire does in all ecosystems is reset it," Dave Quinn told guest host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.
Human activity over the past century has sought to end fires as soon as flames spring up. That's led to dark, overgrown forests in parts of the Interior that aren't conducive to all wildlife, Quinn said.
"If we add fire back into some of them, it helps open up that canopy and gets rid of the trees," he said.
"A lot of shrubs come back in, which are really good for elk, moose and deer in the wintertime and for nesting songbirds. It creates more of a diverse habitat."
Smaller wildlife most affected
It's not good news for all of the 1,100 types of wildlife in B.C.
The 2,136-hectare Harrop Creek wildfire has destroyed old-growth coniferous forests and forced vulnerable mountain caribou to a higher plateau, Quinn said.
It can take 200 to 350 years for caribou habitats to return to their pre-fire states.
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Smaller wildlife also tend to suffer the most from wildfires, Quinn said.
Squirrels, for instance, use their summers to build up their food reserves. Even if they manage to escape the flames, they're likely not to survive the winter.
Similarly, birds are able to escape but may return and find there are no more shrubs left to nest in, forcing them into different regions.
Some wildlife, such as snakes and salamanders, will try to burrow a foot deep into the soil. But the wildfires have registered temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees Celsius.
"Even if you're a foot down in the soil, you're going to get barbecued," Quinn said.
What will the forests look like?
Charred matchstick trees are a common sight post-wildfires. How fast greenery grows back depends on the fire's ferocity.
One extreme example is the 2003 wildfires in the Kootenay region.
"There was a huge fire tornado that uprooted old spruce trees and threw them across the valley. It burned really incredibly hot," Quinn said.
"For years after the fire, there was nothing. It was just sterilized soil in some areas."
Quinn has since visited the area and said lichen and moss have started to cover the soil. The first huckleberries are beginning to grow, too.
"It can take years or decades in extreme events," he said.
Soil can also become so sterilized that it's unable to absorb water, Quinn said. That can dramatically affect runoffs and cause floods when snow melts.
With files from CBC's The Early Edition