- Around 1% of forests is significantly affected each year by forest fires, although the area of forest affected by fires is severely underreported.
- Less than 10% of all forest fires are prescribed burning, the rest are classified as wildfires.
- Outbreaks of forest insects pests damage some 35 million hectares of forest each year.
When forest fires become a problem…Fires become a problem when they burn in the wrong places, or at the wrong frequency or the wrong temperatures. Globally, most forest fires are probably now directly or indirectly influenced by humans.
Fire is often used to 'manage' forests because it is cheap, simple to apply and sometimes because it is the only option available for poorer people and smallholders.
Effects of forest firesFires can alter the structure and composition of forests, opening up areas to invasion by fast-colonizing alien species and threatening biological diversity.
- Buildings, crops and plantations are destroyed and lives can be lost.
- For companies, fire can mean the destruction of assets.
- For communities, besides loss of an important resource base, fire can also lead to environmental degradation through impacts on water cycles, soil fertility and biodiversity.
- For farmers, fire may mean the loss of crops or even livelihoods.
Find out more
- WWF-Greece Wildfire Ecological Assessment, August 2007 3.03 MB pdf
- The Amazon's Vicious Cycles: Drought and Fire in the Greenhouse 2.49 MB pdf
- Forest Fires and Climate Change 292 KB pdf
- Forest fires in the Mediterranean 67 KB doc
Research shows that climate change makes forests drier, suggesting that it is more likely forest fires will increase in number and severity due to increases in temperature and lower humidity.
Future El Niño events - the periodic upwellings of warm waters in the Pacific Ocean which affect weather patterns across the globe - could increase incidences of fire, particularly in the forests of South America, releasing millions of tonnes of stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Impacts of climate change on forest wildlife
Forest wildlife is most likely to be affected through the change of habitat and the lack of water. As average temperature increases, optimum habitat for many species will move to higher elevations or higher latitudes.
Where there is no higher ground or where changes are taking place too quickly for ecosystems and species to adjust, local losses or global extinctions will occur. Changes can also allow invasive species to flourish, threatening the habitat of endemic species.