Roe deer, lizards… What remains of the fauna in the devastated forests?

What remains of the animal world in the disaster-affected forests of the Gironde? In July and August, monstrous fires raged, destroying almost 30,000 hectares of forested areas in the south of the Gironde and in the Arcachon basin. A few weeks after these fires went out, and although there was another major fire on the Medoc in mid-September, 20 minutes interested in the implications for wildlife.

Although it is very difficult to know the number of animals that died in the fire, associations, hunters and specialists went to the site as soon as possible and carried out an initial inventory.

A “death blow” for some species caught?

“This was more serious than expected for the fauna of the La Teste user forest,” says Françoise Branget of the Bassin d’Arcachon Ecologie association. If you count insects, reptiles, amphibians, millions of animals have died. Even those who, as you might think, could run, were trapped, because the hooves of the boars, deer, melted, and they could not take a step further. Films have been made of burnt boars running over them in flames. But those who occupied the basement of the forest also burned down, died in greater numbers.

Mathieu Berrono, reptile and amphibian specialist of the association Cistude Nature, is concerned about the fate of several endemic species of the southern Gironde, which were threatened with extinction even before the disaster. “For example, the viviparous lizard, if it is indeed present in Northern Europe, is very rare in the Gironde and is limited only to this environment, where it lives in lagoons, which are cold refuges for it within a very hot ecosystem. namely the pine forest of Landes de Gascogne, this specialist explains. There are also coronella smootha, some species of butterflies, dragonfly…’ It is impossible to comment at this stage on the state of the populations, but this herpetologist fears that the fire was a ‘death blow’, adding that they are animals. with little mobility.

“Let’s not forget about the consequences of intoxication”

According to the Bird Protection League (LPO) fire forest database, of the 300 species observed in Landiras, 24 are red-listed as endangered species (e.g. sedge fade moth and warbler). And in the basin, 200 species were identified, including 14 listed in the red list. Among them are two types of bats: the big noctule and the common noon, arboreal species that need an old forest, like Teste de Buch, with hollows.

“The damage is very diverse: there are areas that have been completely burned, and others where life has survived, sometimes with superficial damage,” explains Francoise Branget. But let’s not forget the effects of smoke. The LPO Wildlife Conservation Center, located in Odenja, received about thirty animals directly related to the fires, most of which had breathing problems. “We didn’t expect big arrivals, the animals either managed to escape or they didn’t, but an intermediate option is unlikely,” says Mathieu Sagnier, project manager for biodiversity conservation at LPO Aquitaine. He also highlights patchy situations by sector with “small islands mostly covered with deciduous trees” that may have served as shelters. The drought could be an advantage, in the sense that the fire sometimes passed very quickly, before it had time to penetrate underground.

Slow return of wild boars and deer

As soon as the Gironde hunting federation was able to send members to assess the damage after the announcement of the firefighting, it installed thermal imaging cameras on trails ranging from 20 to 25 kilometers long to make the first counts. To date, three have been completed in La Teste and two in Landiras. In fifteen days, low vegetation (ferns, grass) began to grow, attracting herbivores. “The deer are slowly coming back, although we saw very few of them at the beginning of the observation,” comments Marilou Terlin, hunting specialist for the federation. In these areas there are a lot of wild boars, there are a few hares, foxes and birds. »

Camera traps have also been set up in the center of disaster areas near waterholes to watch for the species that come there to refresh themselves. Result: three-quarters of them are wild boars, even if there are a few foxes and birds (pigeons, crows, jays, tits, finches, etc.). The federation lists not only hunting species, but all kinds of birds. It will be necessary to wait at least a year to have enough historical data for the items for which he lacks points of comparison.

The Federation closely monitors wild boar populations, and they should be hunted again soon. In La Testa, the president of the local association decided to ban deer hunting, at least at the beginning of the season.

Opportunity after tragedy?

In the aftermath of the disaster, questions such as the handling of the Teste de Buch user forest remain unanswered. “Animals are returning and the ecosystem is already recovering, but we are talking about heavily mechanized interventions in the forest to change this ecosystem, to cut down almost all the trees…,” Françoise Branguet worries. If yes, then the worst is yet to come. We must not yet touch this forest and wait until it is reborn. The LPO would also like to be associated with the reflections that will take place around the new plantations. She would like more linear hardwoods and wetlands, while improving safety measures against the risk of fire.

“We have to put things in perspective, we were all shocked by the exciting side of the fires, but that remains 30,000 hectares when 40,000 hectares are urbanized in France every year,” says Mathieu Sagnier. It is irreversible as long as nature can restore its rights on these burned 30,000 hectares.” He believes that the fires, while remaining a tragedy, are not an environmental disaster or even an opportunity for intelligent replanting. As for Landiras, he believes that in 10-15 years it will be possible to find species that existed before the fire, but he agrees that certain losses in La Testa will be irreparable, since it was a very ancient place.

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