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Large Herbivores Can Help Prevent Massive Wildfires

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In 2019 and 2020, a megafire scorched eastern Australia, destroying some 24 million hectares of land, and adding to the hole in the ozone layer. Another massive fire ate away parts of Northern California in 2018, and slowly animals are starting to return. Over the years fires have scorched parts of Africa, including a 15,000-hectare disaster in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While the frequency, intensity and severity of large-scale wildfires might be a consequence of climate change, there is another cause receiving little attention: the decline of large herbivore populations. Large herbivores regulate nature’s fire systems by eating plant matter that fuels wildfires and turning over soil and vegetation litter as a result of their rummaging behavior. But, large herbivores are in trouble. About 60 percent of species of the world’s largest terrestrial herbivores are at risk of vanishing, for two key reasons: one, because of extensive overhunting, to feed rising populations across the developing world, and two, as part of encroachment by livestock, deforestation and…

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