Wildland Fire in Ecosystems Effects of Fire on Fauna

General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-42-volume 1
January 2000


Smith, Jane Kapler, ed. 2000. Wildland fire in ecosystems: effects of fire on fauna. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 1. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 83 p.

Fires affect animals mainly through effects on their habitat. Fires often cause short-term increases in wildlife foods that contribute to increases in populations of some animals. These increases are moderated by the animals’ ability to thrive in the altered, often simplified, structure of the postfire environment. The extent of fire effects on animal communities generally depends on the extent of change in habitat structure and species composition caused by fire. Stand-replacement fires usually cause greater changes in the faunal communities of forests than in those of grasslands. Within forests, stand-replacement fires usually alter the animal community more dramatically than understory fires. Animal species are adapted to survive the pattern of fire frequency, season, size, severity, and uniformity that characterized their habitat in presettlement times. When fire frequency increases or decreases substantially or fire severity changes from presettlement patterns, habitat for many animal species declines.

Keywords: fire effects, fire management, fire regime, habitat, succession, wildlife


Jane Kapler Smith, Rocky Mountain Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Missoula, MT 59807.


L. Jack Lyon, Research Biologist (Emeritus) and Project Leader for the Northern Rockies Forest Wildlife Habitat Research Work Unit, Intermountain (now Rocky Mountain) Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Missoula, MT 59807.

Mark H. Huff, Ecologist, Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Portland, OR 97208.

Robert G. Hooper, Research Wildlife Biologist, Southern Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Charleston, SC 29414.

Edmund S. Telfer, Scientist (Emeritus), Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6B 2X3.

David Scott Schreiner, Silvicultural Forester (retired), Los Padres National Forest, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Goleta, CA 93117.

Jane Kapler Smith, Ecologist, Fire Effects Research Work Unit, Rocky Mountain Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Missoula, MT 59807.


Cover photo—Male black-backed woodpecker on fire-killed lodgepole pine. Photo by Milo Burcham.


In 1978, a national workshop on fire effects in Denver, Colorado, provided the impetus for the “Effects of Wildland Fire on Ecosystems” series. Recognizing that knowledge of fire was needed for land management planning, state-of-the-knowledge reviews were produced that became known as the “Rainbow Series.” The series consisted of six publications, each with a different colored cover, describing the effects of fire on soil, water, air, flora, fauna, and fuels.

The Rainbow Series proved popular in providing fire effects information for professionals, students, and others. Printed supplies eventually ran out, but knowledge of fire effects continued to grow. To meet the continuing demand for summaries of fire effects knowledge, the interagency National Wildfire Coordinating Group asked Forest Service research leaders to update and revise the series. To fulfill this request, a meeting for organizing the revision was held January 4-6, 1993, in Scottsdale, Arizona. The series name was then changed to “The Rainbow Series.” The five-volume series covers air, soil and water, fauna, flora and fuels, and cultural resources.

The Rainbow Series emphasizes principles and processes rather than serving as a summary of all that is known. The five volumes, taken together, provide a wealth of information and examples to advance understanding of basic concepts regarding fire effects in the United States and Canada. As conceptual background, they provide technical support to fire and resource managers for carrying out interdisciplinary planning, which is essential to managing wildlands in an ecosystem context. Planners and managers will find the series helpful in many aspects of ecosystem-based management, but they will also need to seek out and synthesize more detailed information to resolve specific management questions.

– The Authors
January 2000


The Rainbow Series was completed under the sponsorship of the Joint Fire Sciences Program, a cooperative fire science effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. We thank Marcia Patton-Mallory and Louise Kingsbury for persistence and support.

The authors are grateful for reviews of the manuscript from James K. Brown, Luc C. Duchesne, R. Todd Engstrom, Bill Leenhouts, Kevin C. Ryan, and Neil Sugihara; the reviews were insightful and helpful. Reviews of special topics were provided by David R. Breininger, John A. Crawford, Steve Corn, and Kevin R. Russell; their help strengthened many sections of the manuscript. We are thankful to Nancy McMurray for editing; Dennis Simmerman for assistance with graphics; Bob Altman for literature reviews of special topics; Loren Anderson, Steve Arno, Milo Burcham, Robert Carr, Chris Clampitt, Betty Cotrille, Kerry Foresman, Jeff Henry, Catherine Papp Herms, Robert Hooper, Dick Hutto, Bob Keane, Larry Landers, Melanie Miller, Jim Peaco, Dean Pearson, Rick McIntyre, Dale Wade, and Vita Wright for providing photographs or helping us locate them.