With Saskatchewan and British Columbia both in the midst of the worst forest fire season they’ve ever seen, foresters are facing the agonizing decision to just let the fires burn.
“It’s a grim situation,” DeSmog Canada reports. “But those studying the issue say the human toll of wildfire needs to be balanced against the reality that vulnerable forests are going to burn either way—especially given the mounting pressures presented by climate change.”
Canada has already lost 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) of forest this year, northern Saskatchewan is in the midst of its biggest-ever evacuation, and B.C. has already exhausted its $63-million firefighting budget, with several weeks to go in the fire season. A news report yesterday suggested that some of the fires might keep burning until they’re extinguished by the first snow of winter.
“The question becomes, if we’ve got areas where fire can burn, the most responsible thing to do ecologically, fiscally, and for long-term health is to let those fires burn,” Toddi Steelman, executive director of the University of Saskatchewan School of Environment and Sustainability, told DeSmog. “If we don’t let them burn, we have to pay that account down the line…the forest will burn eventually.”
USask Associate Professor Jill Johnstone added that with frequent, severe fires, lost tree cover may be replaced by more resistant, broader-leafed species. “As the climate is warming, we’re having more frequent extreme fire weather that leads to big, active fire years,” she told Eaves. “And the fires that burn under those conditions seem to trigger parts of the landscape to shift to this less flammable vegetation type.”
In a fundraising letter earlier this week, the National Observer accused Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being silent while the western provinces burn. “Did his thoughts turn to the 13,000 people in Saskatchewan forced to flee their homes, the worst exodus of its kind in the province’s history? Did he think about the ashes falling from Vancouver’s skies?” the online newspaper asked.
“We don’t know, because Harper didn’t talk about it” while he was in Vancouver for the FIFA women’s soccer final. “He didn’t acknowledge the efforts of B.C. and Saskatchewan firefighters. He didn’t extend his sympathy. He didn’t seek to allay peoples’ fears.
“Is that because climate change might be a factor?”