Forest Fire Severity in BC
by alexJscott11 on October 6, 2017 - 9:38pm
With all the seemingly apocalyptic natural disasters occurring everyday around the world, we sometimes forget to look in our own backyard – even when, in the case of the BC wildfires, nearly 400,000 hectares of our backyard has been destroyed as of August 16th, 2017. Fires have raged throughout the province and surrounding areas since March and have put infrastructure and human life at risk, as well as consumed vast quantities of natural resources we as a country depend on.
As reported by CBC News investigative journalist Tara Carman in her article Area of B.C. burned by wildfires at a 56-year high, wildfires have burnt through an area larger than metropolitan Vancouver. The fires have also been severe in terms of human impact, as many have burnt close to communities, forcing evacuations. This trend of increasing wildfire severity is not surprising; however, it was reported that the number of human-caused wildfires has dropped in recent years.
Just as the benefits of harvesting a natural resource goes to the state, so does the responsibility to manage that resource – a notion that proves to be especially important for the sustainable extraction and use of timber since it can be considered both a common pool and stock resource. Just as the sustainable management of forest resources in Canada has led to conflict, so has the management of forest fires. The articles states increasingly hot and dry summers as the primary cause of the increasing severity of forest fires in BC, however I believe it neglects to consider other aspects, such as the suppression of forest fires and the resulting accumulation of dense, old growth forests that offer greater fuel capacity for fires to burn. Firefighting teams in western North America are successful in extinguishing approximately 95 percent of forest fires while they are small, leading to an increase in dead, more flammable fuel as well as more fuel per unit area (Dodge, 1972). Stakeholders and governments have worked together to combat this problem by allowing isolated fires to burn out naturally and prescribing burns to areas that have had many years of growth, however it is argued by some that this isn’t enough. The conflict stems from the uncertainty associated with the paradigm western science has developed over the causation and life cycle of a forest fire, supported by the fact that forest fire severity has not linearly decreased with increasingly advance suppression techniques.
The globalization of the natural resource industry in Canada has led a heavy reliance on resources such as lumber to drive our economy, however much more attention needs to be given to its sustainable management if we wish to continue to use it as an asset.
Support: Dodge, M. (1972). Forest fuel accumulation -- a growing problem. Science, 177(4044): 139-142.