Living with Fire: Wildlife & Wildfires

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Detailed Description

Southern California's fire ecology is unlike that of anywhere else in the United States. Fire control strategies developed for mountain forests don't have the same results here. So can science help uncover new answers to help Southern California communities manage and live with wildfires? This 10 minute film showcases ongoing USGS research supporting agencies on the frontlines of fire management. Like earthquakes, southern California wildfires can't be prevented -- but the risks they pose to our communities and landscapes can be managed. USGS scientists hope to increase our understanding of wildfire factors. The resulting research can assist managers and planners in finding solutions to reduce the risk of home and habitat loss -- and help southern California truly learn to live with fire.


Image Dimensions: 480 x 360

Date Taken:

Length: 00:03:17

Location Taken: San Diego, CA, US


Narrator: The southern California climate
embodies all of the ingredients for disastrous


Six to eight months of little to no rainfall.

Hot summers with temperatures often over 100

And in autumn when everything is at its driest
come the Santa Ana winds, surging in from

the deserts to the east, blowing hot, dry

Gusting 60 to 90 miles an hour.

Firefighter: Garbled

Narrator: When a fire starts under these conditions,
almost nothing can stop it.

Firefighter: It does look like it’s comin
pretty hard.

Narrator: Wildlife impacts are also being
studied as part of the southern California

wildfire risk scenario project.

The scientists are examining the aftermath
of several 2003 and 2007 fires in San Diego

that destroyed over 300,000 acres.

They’re surveying the wildlife and vegetation
communities before and after the fires.

Carlton Rochester: So we had been studying
this sight since 1995 and so we had a real

good sample of what animals, and when I say
animals I’m talking about reptiles, amphibians,

small mammals and also vegetation.

And so we had a good idea of what was here
before the fires.

And then when it burned in 2003 we came back
to those same exact sites using that same


Since the fires, shrub cover has decreased.

We went from about 80% cover to about 40%

So, that’s about a 50% decrease in shrub

And all the leaf litter that was on the ground
that all burned off.

And so now there’s a lot more direct sunlight
hitting the ground, drying the ground out

and creating a very unsuitable habitat for
slender salamanders.

And so, since the fires, over the last seven
years we’ve only seen like four salamanders

total, whereas we used to see four salamanders
every month when we would come out here.

Narrator: Results like these have been demonstrated
for a number of species.

They suggest that with increased fires many
wildlife species will be unable to cope with

the rapid change to their habitat.

Carlton Rochester: One of the desired outcomes
for this project for us at USGS is that these

natural environments that this chaparral that
this coastal sage scrub, that these environments

that are characteristic of southern California
will still be around 100 years in the future.

We want to make sure that these plant communities
are around we also want to make sure that

the wildlife that lives inside these vegetation
communities are still around because this

is part of our heritage for southern California.

Narrator: Coming up, learn about the new model
the scientists are creating to help reduce

fire risk.