Saturday, May 07, 2016

So, What About the Next Fire?

If we've discovered anything from the Fort Mac fire it's how woefully we are unprepared to deal with these conflagrations.

It's not like our leaders, provincial and federal, weren't warned. They've been warned for a long time, repeatedly warned, about the rapidly worsening forest fire problem. Like so many similar threats they've simply done bugger all about it.

Rachel Notley pared $15-million from Alberta's forest firefighting budget this year. Brilliant, Rachel, well done. Christy Clark the same.

Think these fires are bad - Slave Lake, Kelowna, now Fort McMurray? They're kids stuff compared to what's coming and, yes, that's largely due to climate change. Here's a brief excerpt from the latest New Yorker magazine describing the American situation. Ours is no better:

Last year, wildfires consumed ten million acres in the U.S., which was the largest area of any year on record. All of the top five years occurred in the past decade. In some areas, “we now have year-round fire seasons,” Matt Jolly, a research ecologist for the United States Forest Service, recently told the Times.

“You can say it couldn’t get worse,” Jolly added, but based on its own projections, the forest service expects that it will get worse. According to a Forest Service report published last April, “Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970.” Over the past three decades, the area destroyed each year by forest fires has doubled, and the service’s scientists project that it’s likely to “double again by midcentury.” A group of scientists who analyzed lake cores from Alaska to obtain a record of forest fires over the past ten thousand years found that, in recent decades, blazes were both unusually frequent and unusually severe. “This extreme combination suggests a transition to a unique regime of unprecedented fire activity,” they concluded.

So, Rachel and Christy and Brad and Justin, just what do you want to do about this? Let the boreal forest go up in smoke? That's an option. But how do you deal with it after that? Do you reforest it or leave it a charred wasteland for nature's intervention? What about the watershed? Any ideas on that? Do we retreat from the north, bring everyone back down? What then?

CBC quoted a guy from the BC forest service who said the fire situation this year is nearly 20 times worse than normal. Of course he's speaking about the old normal, not the new normal. 

Kids, better face facts. With the political leadership we have today - federal and provincial - we're on our own.


Anonymous said...

Anyong said... Well Mound, for all the evidence and all the true scientific research, you (plural) would think people would own up to man made climate change. However, when comments like "God will take care of it" and "there has always been cold and hot periods in the world's cycles", a person does not have to wonder why there is such denial among Canadians regarding this severe issue. If people believe in God, why is it they don't accept the fact, God gave humans the ability to think through a problem and gave them the ability to do something about it? No most Canadians are not thinking in that manner especially governments. It is a gross mindless shirking of accepting any responsibility for the environmental problem. They are leaving it to someone far as I am able to discern, it is the Canadian way and it isn't going to change any time soon.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, I think we'll have to take a similar approach to how the Dutch tackled sea level rise. There they evaluated what they could afford to defend and what territory would have to be returned to the sea.

If Canada's forest fire hazard is to worsen as predicted, we will have to identify what needs defending and be prepared to sacrifice other territory.

The thing with climate change is that it has brought us into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. The Holocene, that steady and gentle climate that facilitated the growth of civilization over the past 11,000 years, is over. This new epoch, our new era will require a lot of changes.

One of these changes is that some vegetation, particularly trees, will no longer be viable in traditional habitats. Pine beetles, for example, pretty much rule out the continuation of pine forests where we've always known them. Other trees, more climate suitable, will have to take their place. That could be true for the entire boreal forest and it's balance of deciduous versus coniferous trees. The thing is we have to give nature a hand and do some of the research to help the ecosystem evolve. Now's the time to be doing that.

Anonymous said...

In central BC they replaced bug killed Pine with replanted Pine saplings!!
Pine are the fastest growing trees.
Greed has replaced common sense.
A natural forest is the most durable.


Steve said...

We need a clear cutting strategy. Remember when clear cutting was a bad thing, time to think again. In Europe the forests are managed like farmers fields. We need armies of robots clear cutting and replanting fire resistant patterns like the ants of God.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Trailblazer - are you kidding? Are they really replanting pine? It wasn't that long ago that the forestry department at UBC was recommending a shift to red alder after concluding that the pine family was no longer viable to our new climate reality.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Steve - I find it interesting that no one is talking about how these fires impact on our greenhouse gas emissions. Our forests once were a huge carbon sink. Now between the longer, warmer and dryer fire season and pest infestations those same forests have transformed into a giant carbon bomb. Every tree consumed represents a plume of CO2 released into the atmosphere.