Threats Facing Forests

Environmental Club

Sophie Goricanec, Noelle Villanueva, Juliette Pham

Recently, California experienced a record breaking fire season that devastated more than 4 million acres of land. With these fires come many damaging effects on the ecosystem, animals, and people that call these places home. Though many in our Leigh community have stayed safe from these blazes, we have sadly become accustomed to the smoky air and the spare-the-air days. In this article, Leigh’s environmental club delves deeper into these wildfires and the lasting effects on people and the ecosystem. 

There is a lot of controversy surrounding forest fires. President Donald Trump believes that this is a simple matter of bad forest care at the state level. In a tweet posted in late 2019, Trump claims that California’s forest fires would disappear if we would just “clean” the forest floors. He believes all of California’s forest fires are caused by spontaneous combustion of dry fuel on the forest floor such as leaves and sticks when in reality, only 15% of wildfires are natural disasters. Of that, most are caused by lightning. Only a small percentage is caused by spontaneous combustion. The three types of fire spread are ground, surface, and crown. Fires that burn organic matter in the soil beneath surface litter are considered ground spread. They are sustained by glowing combustion and if caught early on can be slowed by digging trenches to limit the amount of fuel available to burn. Surface spread occurs when flames start to appear and burn through leaf litter, branches, and other forest debris. Water and oxygen blocking agents start to become necessary to stifle the fire. The most intense fire spread is crown spread which is unfortunately common for us in California. These fires require strong winds, steep slopes, and a heavy fuel load to continue burning. This is why in addition to water and oxygen blockers, like that orange powder you sometimes see being deposited from planes, firefighters may start controlled fires in the direction of the wind so that when the larger flames arrive, there is no fuel to burn and the fire will end on its own.

Every year, 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut down. Logging is the process of cutting trees, processing them, and moving them; Plants store carbon dioxide within its tissues; when we tear down the trees, we lose the carbon-absorbing benefits while also releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Logging often takes place because companies want to gain more land for agriculture or for the more obvious reason, money. Raising livestock is a very profitable industry, and to do so lots of space needs to be cleared, resulting in deforestation. When given the chance, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange. This would be fine if we didn’t continue logging, however, as fires and human impact continue to contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the trees can’t keep up. Not only this but deforestation can lead to a direct loss of wildlife habitat as well as a general degradation of their habitat.

When wildfires occur, all levels of the environment are affected, especially animals. Most wildlife have adaptations that allow them to escape or survive. However, animal casualties are inevitable, especially in the large, deadly blazes here in California. After the fires die out, many wildlife rescue teams can be observed helping the animals they can find. Burns are hard to heal from but tilapia skin wraps can be bound around the burns to speed up the healing process. Though fires can deal a lot of damage they can also be a good thing. Dead plant and animal matter left on the forest floor can be decomposed at a faster rate, releasing their nutrients into the soil and stimulating the regrowth of the forest after the fires. However, these beneficial effects of fires are being canceled out by the increasing frequency and intensity of these blazes. Due to climate change, weather patterns are changing and drought conditions occur more frequently and last longer, worsening the effects.

These devastating fire seasons may be a yearly occurrence in California, but through community collaboration and changes within our own lives, we can make a difference. Reducing our waste, cleaning up our trash, and investing in green technology all work to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By solving climate change, we can say goodbye to California’s most destructive flames. 

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