California has entered its fourth year of a record-breaking drought that is wreaking havoc on its environment. Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency in January 2015 and strict statewide conservation measures have been imposed since. One of the most dangerous aspects of the drought is the threat of surging wildfires caused by the dry terrain. Scientists say it has the potential to strengthen wildfires and cost millions of dollars to extinguish.

Environmental Impact of California Wildfires

It’s easy to assume that a wildfire’s damage is done after it has been doused, but that isn’t always the case. Scientists say their impact could be devastating for years to come, especially in areas that have been subject to multiple fires. In fact, some of the damage may be irreversible. For example, invasive weeds and grasses could begin to outnumber native plants and shrubs, hastening erosion and leading to even more fires.

Rabbits, small birds and other animals that rely on California’s native vegetation may have trouble finding enough food to live. Scientists say the full extent of the damage will not be known for years. The results may not all be bad, as the state’s natural landscape is designed to handle occasional fires, because many native plants actually need fires to grow. However, if an area is hit by a fire twice within a five-to-10-year period, its native shrubs may not have the opportunity to mature and grow seeds.

Wildfires Have Major Economic Influence

Additionally, large wildfires typically cause instability in local labor markets by increasing seasonal variation in employment the following year. Local capture of suppression spending is key, as it assists in mediation efforts for labor markets. In total, local employment increases 1 percent during the quarter of the fire for every $1 million spent in the county.

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