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What does the Burns Bog fire mean for the animals, plants that live there?

Last Updated Jul 4, 2016 at 3:28 pm PST

(Source: facebook.com/deltapolicedept)

DELTA (NEWS 1130) – The Burns Bog fire in Delta has caused animals to flee their homes, invasive plants to jump into growth overdrive and has released hundreds of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, according to experts.

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Eliza Olson, president of the Burns Bog Conservation Society, is expecting impacts to the wildlife living in one of North America’s largest peat bogs. “I hope most of the birds have fledged and left their nests. If they haven’t, they’re going to be burned. The deer and mammals can move,” she says.

As for the fire retardant being dropped by water bombers, Olson says “one of the ironies is some of the stuff they use actually encourages vegetation to grow.”

“In a peat bog, you want things to grow slowly. Any nutrients added to the bog encourages invasive plants because a bog is naturally nutrient-poor and acidic,” she explains.

The fire has also caused “legacy carbon” stored deep within the ground and peat for more than a thousand years to burn and release into the atmosphere, according to McMaster University earth sciences professor Mike Waddington.

“We see over 200 tons of carbon per hectare is lost in a fire of these sizes,” he says.

Olson said a bog can store carbon 10 times more efficiently than a tropical rainforest and will also release methane if disturbed.

Waddington co-authored a study released last week analyzing the effects of humans draining bogs. They found such bogs to be much more susceptible to fires, and when fires did occur they were deeper and longer lasting.

“As fire gets into the peat, it can smoulder for days, weeks and in some rare cases months, and that’s quite bad from an air quality perspective,” he says.”

The good news is their research also showed restored and conserved bogs could restore their natural fire retardant nature. He encouraged further conservation efforts, such as the work being done by the Burns Bog Conservation Society. He says current maps of the Burns Bog fire show conserved and restored lands have fared much better than other areas.

“A serious discussion has to be about reducing the fire risk and providing the necessary conservation and restoration opportunities so these kinds of severe fires don’t happen,” he says.

Meanwhile, Olson says it’s now a waiting game, adding she expects the flames to keep crews busy for a couple weeks as they continue to check for hot spots.