More Behind Canada’s 2018 Forest Fires than Climate Change

2018 is turning out to be one of the worst years for forest fires we have ever experienced in Canada.

The United States can probably claim the same. Is this all to do with climate change, or is there more to the story than meets the eye.

(Transcript of Lawrence Gunther’s bi-weekly 12-minute segment on Live from Studio 5 broadcast over AMI TV and Audio across Canada)

Q. Welcome back Lawrence, we here the numbers in the news every day – 600 fires alone in British Columbia – more than enough fire to cover the province of Prince Edward Island twice over. Can you help put this in perspective?

A. Sure, yes, these fires are numerous and in many cases quite large. The estimation they are the size of two Prince Edward Islands may sound huge, but in reality PEI is actually quite small.
A. Put it this way; a single ranch in BC owned by a member of the family that owns Walmart is 250,000 hectares, ½ the size of PEI. I’m not saying the fire situation in B.C. is insignificant, but up until 100 years ago, B.C. experienced on average forest fires that consumed about 500,000 hectares of forest each year.

Q. What’s behind these fires? We know what’s fueling them – trees – but is there more to this story?

A. No doubt, climate change is contributing to the problem, but there’s more to it than rising temperatures.
A. A long wet spring led to considerable undergrowth in and around our forests. This is the grass and shrubs that normally don’t grow as much due to the trees absorbing the lion’s share of the water. Then, when summer hit, long, dry and hot, all this undergrowth dried out making for plenty of dry kindling.

Q. This all sounds like climate change related cause-and-effect, is there more?

A. There’s lightening, but there’s always lightening starting fires. The question is was there more lightening in 2018 than usual. The answer is yes. More heat-related storms meant considerably more heat lightening in 2018. And yes, this too can be contributed to climate change – rising and prolonged summer temperatures combined with long stretches of no rain.

Q. This is all sounding like the making of the perfect fire storm. Is there more to it than dry underbrush, drought, heat, and lightening?

A. Two more significant factors are contributing to the forest fires plaguing BC this year. There is the overabundance of mature trees, and the wreckage left behind by the Pine Beatle.
A. Too many old growth forests have been left unharvested, and in Canada, coniferous forests made up of tree species like Pine, Spruce and Fir, either get cut down or they burn down. It’s nature’s way of recycling and cleaning up.
A. Our policies of putting out all forest fires and bans on logging old growth forests have left us with the makings of what we are now experiencing.
A. Pine Beatles have also contributed to the intensity of the fires. By killing all the Pine trees in BC, they have left behind perfectly dry firewood just ready to go up in flames. Even worse, these dead Pine trees are falling down making it almost impossible for fire fighters to move around with their fire fighting equipment. Its one thing to move through a forest of standing trees, and quite another to have to climb over trees lying in your path.

Q. Is there any end in sight for what seems to becoming a very destructive and depressing summer ritual?

A. First Nations people understood the value of fire. Not just for cooking and staying warm, but for ensuring ample grasslands, meadows, and new growth. The sorts of conditions that animals thrive in. Indigenous people were always setting controlled fires to ensure a healthy supply of flora and fauna to feed their communities.
A. We need to get over our notion that all old growth coniferous forests are sacred and integral to the health of our ecosystems. These are renewable resources that have evolved in ways that anticipate regular destruction by fire. We can either support the harvesting of trees before they die or become consumed by fire, or live with the consequences like we are now.
A. Not all this is related to climate change. Much of it is the result of miss-guided forest management policies put in place by people who thought they were doing the right thing.