Wildfires don’t “destroy” the landscapes they burn through.
Wildfires can kill trees, vegetation, and occasionally wildlife. Flames can burn down homes and businesses in towns and neighborhoods. They can even level entire city blocks.
But wildfires don’t “destroy” acres of land. More often than not, fire paves the way for something new to take root; to grow back.
A new thing has taken root in the burn scar of southern California’s 2021 Windy Fire. The lightning-caused wildfire, which burned just north of the 2016 Cedar Fire east of Porterville, burned nearly 100,000 acres of the Tule River Indian Reservation and the Sequoia National Forest, killing an estimated 3 to 5 percent of the world’s giant sequoia population.
A keystone species — an organism that helps define an entire ecosystem — is calling the fire area home again, 150 years after being hunted and driven out. A pack of gray wolves, one adult female and four cubs, has been seen in the area, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The pack is officially the state’s southernmost wolf pack and is more than 200 miles from the nearest separate wolf pack.
“CDFW investigated the reported location, found wolf tracks and other signs of wolf presence, and collected 12 scat and hair samples from the immediate area for genetic testing,” according to the agency. “The new pack consists of at least one adult female, who is a direct descendant of California’s first documented wolf in the state in recent history.”
This image is the first photo of the pack’s adult female:
While the wolves’ return to the area is historically and ecologically significant, wolves finding home in a burn scar is reportedly a common occurrence, according to an article from Scientific American.
A lack of trees allows more sunlight to hit the soil and causes plants to sprout. The plants attract deer and other species, offering wolves ample eating opportunities. Burn scars can also act as prime den sites for wolves, with clear forests offering less obstructed views of their surroundings, intruders, and predators. And wolves aren’t the only animals to take advantage of a post-wildfire landscape.
“Other animals, such as wild turkeys, are attracted to areas soon after fire because they forage on seeds and invertebrates on the ground in the blackened areas,” said Chris Moorman, a professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology at NC State University. Low-intensity prescribed fires can also increase abundance and diversity of certain plant species in forest understories.