Quirks & Quarks

What are the impacts of forest fires on wildlife?

The speed at which a forest fire spreads determines which species can escape, and which ones do not.
Some animals can outrun forest fires, others are not so lucky. (Getty images)

This week's question comes from Janis Warne of Montreal, who asks " What is the impact of forest fires on wildlife?"

Dr. Todd Shury is a Wildlife Health Specialist with Parks Canada, currently based at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon. He says forest fires like the ones currently raging in British Columbia are devastating for wildlife in the short-term, but can also be beneficial for some animals on a long-term basis.

Many larger, quicker animals can simply run away from fires, but when the flames spread quickly, slower moving species like tortoises and porcupines are less likely to escape. Many of the animals that do not survive forest fires die as a result of inhaling the various toxic chemicals found in smoke, as well as oxygen depravation.

For animals with severe burns to large parts of their body, it is stressful for them to be removed from the wild for treatment. As a result, many are humanely euthanized. Birds such as woodpeckers benefit from forest fires. There is an increase in insects for them to eat, plus damaged trees provide greater nesting habitat.