In Africa, wildlife poachers invading into remote areas are using a deadly new weapon to kill animals: giant fires.
Hunters have traditionally used small fires to flush out game animals. But modern poachers—armed with automatic rifles and lethal wire snares—are using much bigger fires to kill or flush out wildlife.
Unfortunately, beyond devastating native ecosystems, the mega-fires are destroying the villages, farming plots, and livestock of traditional local peoples. Local rage against the invaders has peaked as several village residents were killed by the intense, unexpected fires.
Studies in Zimbabwe, Africa show that mega-fires are being lit by gangs of lawless young men, who do not live locally.
In Southeast Asia, many poachers hail from large cities or even foreign nations, with aggressive Vietnamese poachers being especially notorious.
Roads to Ruin
Globally, the crisis of forest invasion gets far worse when one adds in hundreds of thousands of kilometers of new roads cutting into the world’s last frontier areas.
Many of these roads are being made by loggers and miners, operativing legally or illegally.
In the rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon, a study by ALERT researchers found alarmingly high numbers of illegal roads. Across the region, there were about three kilometers of illegal roads for every one kilometer of legal road.
And just this week, an important new study revealed that Amazonian roads built for industrial mines are indirectly causing remarkably extensive deforestation, by allowing colonists to invade and destroy remote forests.
As the global footprint of roads rapidly expands, so does the prospect of destructive wildfires.
Rainforests that have been fragmented, logged, or scorched by surface fires are drier than intact forests, because their dense, insulating forest canopy—which keeps the rainforest humid and dark—has been disrupted or destroyed.
And when such a degraded forest is crisscrossed by new roads, it’s dead-easy for invaders to start mega-fires. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, mega-fires consumed millions of hectares of native rainforest and farmland in Roraima, Brazil.
But without the roads, it is far harder for invaders to colonize remote areas, making the conservation of forests and wildlife much easier.
And in addition to the environmental advantages, there can also be important social benefits of keeping forests road-free.
Without new roads, local peoples have a fighting chance to maintain their traditional livelihoods, with far less pressure from opportunistic, aggressive outsiders.
It comes down to this: stop the roads, stop the invaders, stop the poaching, stop the mega-fires, stop the devastation of traditional village lands.
It all starts with stopping the roads.