Seed World

Climate Change Turns Up the Heat for Wildfires

Post Wildfire, Source: DroneSeed

While wildfires can be beneficial for ecosystems and are a natural and necessary part of western ecosystems, the frequency and severity of these fires have increased in recent years.

From 2012 to 2021, an average of 61,289 wildfires occurred annually, with an average of 7.4 million acres affected. As of August 1, more than 39,000 wildfires have hit nearly 5.7 million acres, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Rising temperatures and drought have made it apparent that climate change is only increasing the frequency and intensity of these wildfires. Winter snows are melting earlier, with rain falling later in the fall. In recent years, fires have burned outside of the normal fire season in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Tennessee and New Jersey, according to the USDA.

Experts predict these fires will only continue to worsen, making the need for reseeding and native seed companies that much stronger.

“Fire seasons are getting longer. They’re getting more destructive. They’re getting more intense. Extended fire seasons dry out vegetation out at times of the year that are not ideal, setting the stage for large, massive wildfires. Add in increased fuels from annual weeds, like cheatgrass, and that’s a huge problem,” says Damon Winter, general manager of L&H Seeds, in an interview with Seed World. “Quality native plant materials in the form of seeds are an absolute necessity to disrupt weed establishment and return these wildfire cycles toward a more normal frequency.”

How Can Seed Companies Prepare?

Seed companies must have a knowledgeable team to remain vigilant in these recovery efforts, according to Winter.

“Native seed companies need to have people on staff that understand the ecology and native vegetation of these ecosystems. They need to have seed production in place that reflects the native plant communities of the areas that they work in,” says Winter.

Government agencies, like the USDA, offer services and programs to aid the community following these wildfires. The USDA provides technical and financial assistance to support producers post natural disasters including wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms and more.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Materials Centers are a resource available to seed companies. These centers have “selected and released many of the grass and forb species and selections of plant materials used on both private and public lands for reseeding after wildfires. Plant Materials Centers ensure that adequate quantities of starter materials (Foundation seed) are available to commercial seed growers to facilitate large-scale seed increase to address higher demands for seed adapted to specific environments,” shares a NRCS spokesperson.

Additional programs such as the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) and the Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR) have been implemented for disaster recovery. Disaster recovery times differ, according to the USDA Forest Service spokesperson.

New programs, technological advancements and well-equipped native seed companies certainly help the battle to restore the damage caused by wildfires, yet the recovery process is anything but simple.

“Restoring areas after wildfire is a complex, multi-year process. Having the right seed for the right place at the right time involves planning ahead to ensure we have collected the right seed. Growing out the seed and seeding or planting areas involves planning ahead and addressing challenging, post-wildfire site conditions,” says the USDA Forest Service. “With substantially increasing reforestation and other recovery needs, we’ll need to work collaboratively with our partners, including NGOs, tribes, states, and other organizations to harness additional resources.”

Read More:

New Methodology Could Predict Soil Recovery After Wildfires

Post-Wildfire Restoration is a Team Effort that Starts with Native Plants

Urban Wildfire Reclamation: The Right Seed is Just the Start

Independent Seed Companies Cooperate in Wake of Paradise, California Wildfire