Canadian conservationists push emission limits for wildfire reduction

Groundbreaking research last year found around 37 percent of burned land across North America can be traced directly back to carbon emissions from 88 major fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers. Now, environmentalists in Canada are using the research to push for change.

The study, published last May in the journal Environmental Research Letters, used climate, burned area, and global energy balance models to determine what contribution carbon emissions had on increases in vapor pressure deficit (VPD), which partially caused a rise in burned forest area in the United States and Canada. The research concluded, along with the fossil fuel link, that carbon producer emissions contributed to 48 percent of long-term VPD rise between 1901 and 2021.

canada smoke reaches Europe
Smoke from fires in Canada traversed the Atlantic Ocean and drifted over European countries including Portugal and Spain. ~ NASA image of the day for June 27, 2023

“As loss and damage from these hazards mounts, this research can inform public and legal dialogues regarding the responsibility carbon producers bear for addressing past, present, and future climate risks associated with fires and drought in the western U.S. and southwestern Canada,”  researchers said. Nearly a year later, Climate Action Network Canada advocates are using that research to advocate a new push for nationwide carbon emission limits.

June 26, 2023 Canada smoke
June 26, 2023 Canada smoke

“To cap wildfires and other climate impacts, the government must cap oil and gas emissions,” said Climate Action Network Executive Director Caroline Brouillette. “Other sectors and everyday Canadians are reducing their emissions, while for decades the oil and gas sector has increased its pollution and pushed back against every form of accountability. Further delay benefits only oil and gas executives’ pocketbooks and climate-denying politicians.”

A survey of nearly 2,000 Canadians found that nearly two-thirds of residents support a greenhouse gas emissions cap for the oil and gas industry. The survey also found that support for an emissions cap is the highest among Canadians aged 60 or older at 71 percent and only 18 percent of Canadians said the industries shouldn’t be required to limit emissions.

Such a cap would prevent 4,800 premature Canadian deaths and yield $45 billion in economic benefits, according to research projections from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. The results were attributed to projected reductions in air pollution — specifically in nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, and annual ozone — if oil and gas industry emissions are capped at 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2023, which is Canada’s national climate target.

~ Full statement from Climate Action Network Canada.

 

 

North America’s largest ski town prepares for wildfires

There’s only one way in and out of the Canadian municipality of Whistler.

The Coast Mountains surround the forested British Columbia town north of Vancouver, giving Whistler its world-renowned trait of being North America’s largest ski resort community. The rocky slopes, however, occasionally cause transportation problems for Whistler’s residents. Highway 99, the only passage through the southern parts of the mountain range, stands as residents’ only escape route during times of emergency.

Whistler firefighters reflect on the 2023 wildfire season
Whistler firefighters reflect on the 2023 wildfire season

The frequently suffocated roadway and recent devastating wildfires in the nearby communities of West Kelowna and Kelowna pushed the perennially  snow-focused municipality to begin serious planning for a potential fire disaster. Most Whistler neighborhoods are classified as “interface,” but the wildland and ornamental fuel load between residences have characteristics of an “intermix,” or homes being within a forest community. Because of this, Whistler scores high in the plan’s “overall fire risk” category.

Whistler’s pervasive forest primarily drove town officials to take a more proactive approach to wildfire defense in its creation of a community wildfire defense plan.

Whistler firefighters reflect on the 2023 wildfire season
Whistler firefighters reflect on the 2023 wildfire season

“Typically when a wildfire is approaching a community, these defense plans are done at the time as it’s approaching,” Whistler Fire Chief Thomas Doherty told Global News journalists for a recent article. “Obviously wildfire specialists will come in and assist with doing these neighborhood defense plans. We’ve done that in advance. We believe we’re one of the first municipalities to do this type of plan, to have this information readily available ahead of time.”

Whistler firefighters reflect on the 2023 wildfire season
Whistler firefighters reflect on the 2023 wildfire season

The approach Doherty references includes increasing FireSmart education for residents and visitors, changing municipal legislation and community planning with a wildfire resiliency focus, increasing interagency and firefighters’ wildfire response, and continuing strategic vegetation management efforts.

Resort Municipality of WhistlerGlobal News, in their conversation with Doherty, reports that one of the tools created from this plan includes 19 tactical sheets and GIS maps for various critical infrastructure and water source locations, identifying which neighborhoods have a one-way-in and one-way-out access, and safe zones for responders during times of emergency. All this information will reportedly be available to fire personnel through scannable QR codes.

“Extremely critical to have all this information done in advance,” Doherty said. “It’s just unfortunate when an event does occur. At least we’re that much more prepared. And we have all that information readily available.”

You can read the full Whistler Community Wildfire Defense Plan [HERE].

The Coast Mountains surround the forested British Columbia town north of Vancouver, giving Whistler its world-renowned trait of being North America’s largest ski resort community. The rocky slopes, however, occasionally cause transportation problems for Whistler’s residents. Highway 99, the only passage through the southern parts of the mountain range, stands as residents’ only escape route during times of emergency.

Canada’s record-breaking wildfires have widespread logging partly to blame

Quebec and Ontario’s environmentally crucial boreal forests had a tough wildfire season in 2023. The provinces had 12.8 million and 1.1 million acres burn, respectively.

The 44 million acres burned by wildfires across Canada have been attributed mainly to abnormal drought and high temperatures,  but a new study is pointing to another possible factor: the planting of millions of acres of immature trees after widespread logging. A recent study published by researchers at Australia’s Griffith University found more than 35 million acres of Canada’s forests have been lost to logging since 1976, including 20 million acres in Quebec and 14 million acres in Ontario.

The “loss” wasn’t caused by deforestation, which is “land that has been cleared of trees and permanently converted to another use” under Canada’s definition. Rather, the forest has been lost to forest degradation, or the conversion of naturally regenerating forest to plantations of planted trees.

“The Canadian Government claims that its forests have been managed according to the principles of sustainable forest management for many years,” the researchers said, “yet this notion of sustainability is tied mainly to maximizing wood production and ensuring the regeneration of commercially desirable tree species following logging,”

CanadaLogging
Overview of logged forest within the study area for the period ~1976 to 2020.

The decrease in the land area of older, more resilient forests across both Quebec and Ontario — and their subsequent replacement with immature trees — both lowered overall forest biodiversity and increased the prevalence of disturbances (wildfire, insect infestations, disease spread) over time.

“Logging has significantly increased the rate of disturbances in this region,” the report said. “This decrease in older forests when compared with historical natural conditions is accompanied by the resulting decline in structural attributes — such as large live and dead standing trees and coarse woody debris associated with older forests — which negatively affects biodiversity.”

The full study is online [HERE].

Quebec and Ontario’s environmentally crucial boreal forests had a tough wildfire season in 2023. The provinces had 12.8 million and 1.1 million acres burn, respectively.

The 44 million acres burned by wildfires across Canada have been attributed mainly to abnormal drought and high temperatures,  but a new study is pointing to another possible factor: the planting of millions of acres of immature trees after widespread logging. A recent study published by researchers at Australia’s Griffith University found more than 35 million acres of Canada’s forests have been lost to logging since 1976, including 20 million acres in Quebec and 14 million acres in Ontario.

Appeals commission rejects British Columbia landowner’s claim of neighbor arson, sticks him with $450K bill

Clarke Matthiesen claimed his neighbors’ grandson caused the 2019 fire that originated on his property, and not his unregistered burn, according to the CBC News.

It took B.C. Wildfire Service crews two weeks to contain the fire that  started as a holdover from Matthiesen’s debris burn. He’s now on the hook for about $450,000 after an appeals commission rejected his claim that his neighbors’ grandson started the fire. The Forest Appeals Commission dismissed his appeal, finding that his explanation was “both unproven and unlikely.”
British Columbia Fire Service photo
British Columbia Fire Service photo

Investigators had concluded that a holdover fire from an improperly extinguished open burn of Matthiesen’s was the cause. The burn covered around 224 square metres — under 2500 square feet —  and a holdover fire can smolder underground for days or even months. “The burning of a large debris pile, as in this case, is inherently risky and can result in significant destruction if wildfires result from the burning. It is the responsibility of those engaged in such burning activity to ensure they have met the legislated requirements,” the appeals decision says.

The wildfire burned for about two weeks some 150 kilometres west of Quesnel, B.C. Matthiesen was ordered to pay $179,344 for damage to Crown resources, $260,369 for the cost of fighting the fire, $7,546 for reforestation costs, and a $2,350 administrative penalty.

Matthiesen hadn’t raised his arson theory with any officials or investigators in the four years before his appeal. He did not have a burn permit for the fire he started, and had no firefighting tools or water nearby as required. An investigator said Matthiesen’s burn pile included root wads from trees, which are often involved in holdover fires.

“The appellant was unaware of the degree of risk posed by holdover fires, the appropriate way to check for hotspots, or the need to maintain a fuel break even after the initial burning phase,” the decision says.

Matthiesen is one of the latest people ordered to pay huge fines under a section of provincial law that allows the government to recover suppression costs from those responsible for starting wildfires. In another recent case, another man was billed for another 2019 fire, according to another CBC News report.

A northwest British Columbia resident was billed more than $100,000 to cover the province’s cost of a fire that started on his property four years ago. Eldon Whalen was ordered to pay $100,688 for a fire that spread from a burn pile on his property in the Kispiox Valley northwest of Prince George.

The open fire was deliberately ignited, and if not for the response of the B.C. Wildfire Service, the impacts would likely have been even more widespread, according to the decision from B.C.’s Forest Appeals Commission.

Satellite views of Canada’s largest 2023 fires

Over 18 million hectares (more than 44 million acres, roughly the size of North Dakota), were burned during Canada’s record-breaking wildfire season this year, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC). Canada usually sees only 2.5 million hectares burn annually. Although the number of fires that burned this year isn’t unusual — 6,595 as of October — many of the fires that did burn spread to “megafire” status.

Newly released NASA satellite imagery shows the day-by-day expansion of some of these megafires. The year’s second-largest fire burned 1,224,938 hectares (4,730 square miles) southeast of Sakami in Quebec; it was fully contained in late July.

NASA satellite imagery also shows the spread of four wildfires in and south of the Northwest Territories. The western-most fire, burning near Fort Nelson, stopped spreading in August after burning 802,575 hectares. It then was reignited by winds in late September and early October and spread to 1,294,096 hectares, becoming the state’s largest wildfire as of November 4. The animation details the fire’s first spread.

Scientists tracked the fires with the new “Fire Events Data Suite” (FEDS), which draws on data from a group of satellites called VIIRS. “The thing that really sets FEDS apart is that the system excels at tracking the daily, incremental spread of fires at 12-hour intervals,” said Yang Chen, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “That makes near real-time monitoring possible and allows us to generate much more detailed views of fire progression than we have been able to do in the past.”

The new system will reportedly help fire crews pinpoint the parts of a fire perimeter that are actively burning and identify residual heat from the fire that may pose a hazard to wildland firefighters.

Yukon First Nations Wildfire closes a record-breaking fire season

A collaboration between 13 indigenous governments and the Yukon government officially closed another fire season on Friday, which was one for Canada’s record books.

Canada saw more than double the carbon emissions from wildfires between January 1 and July 31 than the previous record year, according to the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme. The emissions represented 25 percent of the global total for 2023 to date.

Animation of GFASv1.2 active fire locations and fire radiative power over Canada from 1 May to 31 July 2023, showing how the locations of wildfires has moved during the 2023 season. Credit: CAMS/ECMWF.
Click to view animation of GFASv1.2 active fire locations and fire radiative power over Canada from 1 May to 31 July 2023, showing how the locations of wildfires moved during the 2023 season. Credit: CAMS/ECMWF.

The Yukon First Nations Wildfire partnership helped fight 218 of the fires that started in the territory and burned more than 223,942 hectares. The partnership is made up of 13 First Nations and nine stakeholders that incorporate traditional knowledge in both its IA and SA programs. The collaboration officially closed its IA crew’s season on September 15.

“Today is the final day of our Initial Attack crew’s season! Congratulations on a summer full of hard work and dedication,” the partnership posted on its Facebook page. “It’s been a record-breaking year for wildfires across the country, and your impact has been felt from coast to coast.”

Yukon First Nations Wildfire was founded by wildland firefighters and Indigenous business leaders in 2018 after Da Daghay Development Corporation, a First Nations development corporation, started talks for unified wildland firefighting from among all of the territory’s First Nations in 2015. The partnership has since trained 250 firefighters and deployed nine IA teams in First Nation communities.

Yellowknife firefighters

The 2023 season was the first in a recently renewed three-year agreement for managing wildfire in the territory between the First Nations and Yukon’s government, one that outlines hiring procedures for IA firefighters across the territory.

“Several models for wildfire response are in place across the Yukon depending on the preference of First Nations governments for direct hiring of wildland firefighters or delegating administration to others,” according to a June news release from Yukon’s government. “While some First Nations hire crew members directly through development corporations, others delegate contracts to Yukon First Nations Wildfire. These contracted employees are trained and integrated on a yearly basis into the territorial Wildland Fire Management organization.”

The Yukon First Nations Wildfire partnership specifically includes the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, the White River First Nation, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, the Liard First Nation, the Kluane First Nation, the Champagne Aishihik First Nation, the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, and the Ross River Dena Council. Four others — the Selkirk First Nation, the Vuntut First Nation, the Teslin Tlingit First Nation and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, are administered by Development Corporation or First Nations directly.