Occasional fires are healthy for almost every ecosystem, from savannas and prairies to rainforests. Fire rejuvenates as it burns, dumping nutrients back into the soil and creating a rich fertilizer. Sunlight warms the blackened earth and encourages seed germination. In prairies, native grass roots extend deep into the soil. After a fire clears out encroaching woody shrubs, which shade out native species, grasses quickly regrow. Plants damaged by animal foragers are burned down and given a fresh chance to grow.
Animal life benefits from the vegetation changes caused by fire as well. Deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys consume increased acorn production. Some birds, like bluebirds, bobolinks, sandhill cranes, and sharp-tailed grouse require open areas and do better when brush is burned away. Other birds like mourning doves, pheasants, upland plovers, and many sparrows nest in native prairie grasses. Red-headed woodpeckers and pileated woodpeckers use standing dead trees for foraging and nesting; indigo buntings use dead snags and branches for conspicuous singing perches.
Casualties are minimal. During a fire, birds and large mammals temporarily leave the area; amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals survive by burrowing under the soil surface. Although many invertebrates such as spiders and insects will be killed, these species quickly recolonize a burned area. Any negative short-term effects from the fire are overwhelmed with positive long-term effects. Birds may lose a nest, but Cedar Creek’s prescribed burning season is finished before the breeding season is, and many birds will construct another nest. The following year, vegetation regrowth creates more and better nest-building sites for native bird species.
Generally, periodic controlled burns reduce the risk of a large, catastrophic fire by getting rid of standing fuel such as dead tree limbs and brush. A mix of fire regimes will also lead to a greater diversity of species, as different species either thrive or do poorly under different fire regimes.