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Wildfire Risk

Effects of Wildfire on Animals

For many animals, periodic wildfires are something they have adapted to after living in fire prone areas for centuries or even milennia. Different animals have their own ways of avoiding or escaping fire, whether it is hiding in riparian or moist leaf-litter sites, tunneling underground or simply moving around the periphery of the fire. Large mammals will often graze calmly while fires burn only a few hundred yards away. As a result of their acclimation to these conditions, direct fire-caused mortality among animals is generally low. Mortality is most likely when fires are large, intense, and produce a lot of ground smoke.

In most cases, habitat modification poses a much greater threat to animals than the fire itself. In the period immediately following a fire, many animals are forced to move to other areas in order to find food and/or shelter. The length of time animals are forced to move out of a burned area depends heavily on the size and severity of the burn, as well as the season during which the burn takes place. Some animals, particularly small mammals, will experience relatively large population declines immediately after a fire. However, other animals have also been known to return to a burned forest within only a few days. Some animals prefer and even thrive in recently burned forests. For example, the reduction in undergrowth and ground debris can expose small mammals making hunting easier for raptors.


Wildland Fire in Ecosystems Effects of Fire on Fauna. United States Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-42-volume 1, January 2000.

Authored by Dan Weston, Intern, Institute for Natural Resources (2010)