Fire deficit increases the wildfire risk around communities in the Canadian boreal forest

The 8th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress, hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology had a remarkable special session “Fire in the Last Frontier: 21st Century Fire Patterns, Behavior, and Pyroecology of North American Boreal Forests and Tundra”. The Alaska Fire Science Consortium would like to highlight a few of these presentations.

Marc-André Parisien, of the Canadian Forest Service gave a presentation that addressed the effects of fire suppression on communities in boreal Canada.

Decades of fire suppression have resulted in a fire deficit around many communities in boreal Canada. Although human ignitions are 50 times more frequent within 5 km of a village, the percent of area burned within 30 years was 5-15% less around the village than in the surrounding Fire Management Zone.

“Suppression activities can offset the increased fire likelihood… until they don’t”

Since recently burned areas provide some moderation to new fire entry (especially under normal weather conditions), Parisien concludes fire suppression is increasing the risk around communities.

As an example, the 2016 Fort McMurray (top-right panel of figure) fire had only 2% recently burned-forests (pre-fire RBF) within 25 km. This is a much lower area of recently burned forests compared to an average of 42% in areas of the same fire regime zone (FRZ). After the explosive 2016 fire event, the forested area around town was 70% burned (post-fire RBF).

parisien

What’s the solution? Letting wildfire enter the WUI is risky business for managers, and prescribed fires create a lot of smoke and may be complicated by overlapping land ownership. One possibility is biomass utilization projects, which are being tapped by some communities in Canada and Alaska (Erni et al., 2017).

Want to learn more? The full presentation can be viewed here: https://www.frames.gov/catalog/60363

Citations:

Parisien, M-A., Q. Barber, K. Hirsch, C. Stockdale, S. Erni, X. Wang, D. Arseneault, and S. Parks. 2019. Fire deficit increases the wildfire risk around communities in the Canadian boreal forest. Lecture at the 8th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress.  (This research is being prepared for publication).

Erni, S., D. Arseneault, and M.-A. Parisien. 2018. Stand age influence on potential wildfire ignition and spread in the boreal forest of northeastern CanadaEcosystems 21, 1471–1486.

Erni, S., D. Arseneault, M.-A. Parisien, and Y. Begin. 2017. Spatial and temporal dimensions of fire activity in the fire‐prone eastern Canadian taiga. Global Change Biology 23:1152–1166. (Firescar study of reconstructed 300 years of fire activity in Quebec to examine relative effects of climate/ weather vs. forest age controls on fire activity. In younger stands, burn rate was lower for up to 50 years, depending on landscape).

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