There's a great longform article at Jezebel written by Ellie Shechet about the forest fire that hit Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 2016 and how it was a sort of backdrop for a larger environmental change that could be traced to the disappearance of fireflies in nature.
When I first spoke to Faust and decided I wanted to travel to meet her, I learned that fireflies are an “indicator species,” a group of animals that help communicate the general well-being of the surrounding habitat to scientists. They are, Faust told me, “the canaries in the coal mine.” When fireflies disappear from an area, it’s a visual note that something has gone wrong in that habitat. And a lot has gone wrong.
“Everybody remembers more [fireflies] when they were little,” Faust said. “There’s so much more light pollution, so much more environmental pollution, so much more fragmentation of habitat”—that is, the dissolution of large habitats into smaller, detached chunks. “And everything’s having trouble with that, it’s not just the fireflies.”
I was looking for something else in the Smokies, too, some way of making concrete a sad, slow pull of alienation I’d been feeling nearly every time I walked outside. Watching disasters unfold from behind a laptop every day, as my profession requires, seems to have that effect. What will this be like in 30 years? I would think to myself, relentlessly, as the guilt mounted over the main choices in my adult life: of occupation (too much computer time), of city (too few trees), and of the fact that I haven’t really been around the part of the country where I grew up to say goodbye.