Wildfires are a naturally occurring phenomenon.
From a human perspective they can cause massive damage to infrastructure and safety. Road closures, traffic delays and detours prevent tourists from visiting regions whose economies are tourism driven.
From an ecological standpoint, fire is important and shapes the vegetation of British Columbia. Several different kinds of trees, for example Ponderosa Pine with its heat-resistant bark, and shade intolerant Douglas Fir, favour natural fires. Ungulates like deer, moose and elk benefit from new growth and thrive in areas after the fire.
In an article with the Vancouver Sun, The Northwest Territories government reports that fire is necessary and contributes to wildlife habitat and diversity. It notes that when fires are kept from the landscape, unnatural aging of the vegetation causes loss of diversity.
Angelika Langen of Northern Lights Wildlife Society observes that while large animals can escape, their young, squirrels, nesting birds and smaller mammals such as porcupines are often unable to vacate an area. Those who may survive often starve later. Some burrowing animals can dig a foot deep and survive low severity fires but not fires that burn extremely hot. What is beneficial in the long run can be heartbreaking in the moment.
Although there are massive wildlife losses, wildlife biologist Dave Quinn told the CBC that wildfire resets ecosystems and creates more diverse habitats. He notes that human’s desire to eradicate fire leads to overgrowth which itself hinders some wildlife.
Last summer, the majority of wildfires were caused by careless human activity. Managed fires are a key solution to negating massive wildfires. By removing some of the potential fuel, they reduce the severity and intensity of wildfires. Managed fires also aim at minimizing losses of human infrastructure.
In Revelstoke, a massive fire would negatively affect the already endangered mountain caribou. Old growth coniferous forests take hundreds of years to re-establish themselves and unlike other ungulates, caribou do not thrive in exposed lands.
Forest fires are natural and although they are beneficial, they are now burning hotter, longer and bigger than before. According to Our Vanishing Glaciers by Robert W. Sandford published by Rocky Mountain Books, fire season will increase exponentially with climate change. Are our forests equipped to deal with fires of massive size, duration and heat?
Only time will tell.
(photo provided by Province of British Columbia)