2017 has been an intense, and in many cases record-breaking, wildfire season – especially on the west coast of North America.
Despite predictions that this season would be relatively mild due to ample rain and snow last winter, excessive heat combined with dry vegetation and strong winds have created conditions for fires to start and spread more easily.
British Columbia has lost over 2.86 million (yes million!) acres to deforestation from wildfires this year, while totals are at over 1 million acres for California in the U.S., with another 1-2 million combined in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and surrounding states.
And this is just a part of the overall story, as the wildfires are raging in many regions around the world, including Brazil, Indonesia, Zambia, Greenland and many, many more (here is a forest fires map).
What’s the impact?
It’s difficult to comprehend the totality of what is lost. First, there is the human and economic loss, as hundreds of thousands of people have had to evacuate homes, businesses, and hospitals, with some losing everything. Then there is a loss of wildlife and biodiversity as millions of animals, plants, and trees are decimated. And then the environmental damage of such immense swaths of carbon-storing, oxygen-producing resources disappearing, releasing all their CO2 into the atmosphere.
Don’t worry, we’ll end on a hopeful note, but it’s important to reflect and acknowledge the challenges at hand when it comes to recovery.
Generally speaking, here are 7 wildfire facts:
1. About 90% of wildfires in the United States are started by humans.
2. In a non-human world, wildfires would mostly be started by lightning strikes.
3. On average, more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4-5 million acres (1.6-2 million hectares) of land in the U.S. every year. In recent years, wildfires have burned up to 9 million acres (3.6 million hectares) of land.
4. It takes an average of 2-4 years after a wildfire before reforestation efforts can begin. Saplings simply wouldn’t survive until the soil has begun to naturally replenish, can absorb water, and can support new life. It also takes time to mobilize resources for large-scale reforestation.
5. Increases in the cost of battling active wildfires have greatly reduced the budgets available for prevention, which creates a domino effect of worsening conditions.
6. Climate change, as predicted, is fueling longer, stronger, and quicker-to-start wildfires.
7. After wildfires, pioneer species of plants and fungus are the first to colonize the damaged ecosystem, beginning a chain of ecological succession that leads to biodiversity and stability. When this happens, it is a sign that reforestation can begin in order to hasten recovery.
So... now what?
Here’s what we’re doing:
It only takes a few seconds to give nature a chance at recovery.