How Do Wildfires Affect People That Don't Live by the Woods or Forests?

How can wildfires affect people that don't live by the woods or forest? This article provides the answer.

Wildfires affect people that don't live by woods or forests in a number of ways:

  1. The forest may be a national heritage site, a protected area or a scenic area where tourists come to visit and enjoy the scenery. People and even a nation who depend on tourism as their livelihood will see changes in their income (i.e., lowered). What can tourists see if all the of the forest is gone? Nobody enjoys looking at burnt material.
  2. Carbon is liberated into the atmosphere. When forests burn, stored carbon in the trees are released into the atmosphere. This will contribute to existing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and may worsen the effects of global climate change bringing with it externalities associated with increased greenhouse gases (see Two Major Causes of Global Climate Change about externalities). These externalities affect everyone.
  3. Wildlife that depend on the integrity of their forest habitat will be affected. Forests are not without living organisms in it. Those animals unable to escape the fire will toast due to heat. Also, animals need food to survive. Herbivorous organisms or those organisms that graze or depend on derivatives from plants such as leaves, fruits, seeds, shoots, among others for survival will have less food available and eventually die. If they die, those other organisms that depend on them (the carnivores or meat-eating animals) considering the principle of the food chain will have no food to feed them, too. The whole forest food chain may collapse. That means losing the benefits that can be derived from wildlife. There are at least 7 major reasons why wildlife should be conserved namely as source of medicine, agents of pollination, model for man's innovations and inventions, as food, gene pool for pest-resistant strains, pool of nutrients and as something that the future generation can enjoy just like the  present generation.
  4. River and lake water quality and organisms living in the network of rivers down in the watershed will be affected. With nothing to stop the rains from falling directly into the ground (such as that provided by the canopy or leaves of the plants), heavy rainfall will bring with it surface soil or sediments that go with runoff into rivers and lakes especially in high slope areas. This makes the rivers murky or turbid. Turbid water will prevent light important for photosynthesis of plants living underneath the waters. Again, this will have a cascading effect in the food chain. When aquatic plants die as the basic component of the food chain, aquatic animals that depend on it will have less food available. If people fish in that river or lake, this means less catch (thus less food) for consumption. Also, tourists who come to see underwater life will not be able to appreciate living organisms in those affected rivers and lakes. 

While this list on ways that wildfires affect people that don't live by the woods or forests may not be extensive as everything is connected to everything else, wildfires affect people that don't live by the woods or forests directly or indirectly. But this does not also mean that wildfires have negative effects all throughout. Wildfires, in many places, are natural phenomena that are ecologically and socially beneficial.

Here is a list of the benefits that could be gained from wildfires:

  1. Wildfires bring back nutrients into the soil allowing for regrowth of propagules or new plants. Old trees are not so efficient as the young, actively growing trees, in removing carbon from the atmosphere. As long as the propagules are available in forests where wildfires occur, the forest area will again undergo succession. Grasses grow followed up by bushy plants, then gradually the forest returns to its usual state after a considerable number of years. Whatever carbon lost in the atmosphere will be sequestered back by newly growing trees. The new forest may be more biologically diverse than the previous one due to equal opportunities for new trees to grow. Dominant species may have grown in the old forest. More diversity in plants means more diversity in wildlife. More diversity in wildlife means more animals that people could appreciate and derive benefits from.
  2. Researchers will find forest regeneration an opportunity to study succession. It is interesting to find out how a forest naturally revert back to its former state; which plant species gets settled first, what animals come to start all over the food chain, how fast succession can take place, among others. 
  3. A deforested area provides jobs to people. It is an opportunity for people to plant trees. Projects to rehabilitate the forest may be implemented by the government to speed up forest regeneration. Wildfires give jobs to firefighters as well as manufacturers of their implements in fighting fire such as airplanes, fireproof suits, fire retardants, chainsaws, backhoes, etc.
  4. Wildfires increase people's awareness of the importance of the forests. Wildfires remind people that forests are important and an integral part of their lives and must be preserved whenever possible due to the many benefits that could be derived from it. This phenomenon make people more sensitive to the call for nature conservation. 

There may be other indirect ways that wildfires affect people that don't live by the woods or forests. The above list may not encompass all of them as forests, or any natural resource, has many other use and non-use benefits and are valuable (Read How to Determine Forest Value).

© Patrick A. Regoniel 13 November 2010 All Rights Reserved


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