Quirks & Quarks

Wildfires are torching our forests and we need to change tactics

Climate change and raging wildfires suggest we need to re-think forest management.
The Elephant Hill wildfire burns through a hillside near Clinton, B.C., on Aug. 8, 2017. (Master Cpl. Malcolm Byers/Wainwright Garrison Imaging)

The fires

British Columbia has just experienced the worst forest fire season in its history. It was only last week that, after a summer of fire, a province-wide state of emergency was lifted. Several fires grew in size to well over one-hundred thousand hectares, and this led to numerous evacuation orders. Other provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba also experienced an increase in the number of wildfires.  

The book

Ed Struzik is a science journalist and Fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University. In his new book Firestorm:  How Wildfires Will Shape Our Future he makes the connection between the increase in the frequency and size of wildfires like the ones in B.C. and drier forests due to climate change.  Another factor apart from climate change is that humans now have greater access than ever to forested areas.  

The future

Without the funding of more scientific research into the management of forests and the prevention of wildfires, the cost of wildfire to humans in terms of health issues, as well as the cost to the environment, will only increase. A new program in Ontario called BOB (burn and observe) is experimenting with the idea that not all fires need to be fought if they do not impact humans. This will prevent the creation of artificially large forests.