British Columbia Wildfires 2018/18: Impact on Forest Industry

The worst of possible bad news has happened and the wildfires across North America this year are as bad or worse than 2017. It looks like the wildfire experts were correct for the past couple of years when they said these epic forest fires are the new normal. Wildfire ecologists in British Columbia have been warning that the government must invest, and industry must adapt their timber management practices, to expect these kinds of raging wildfires every year.
It is not about “this year was a record-breaking year”, it’s about that these new numbers for timber loss every year due to fire are the new normal.

Adapting to the New Normal: Epic Wildfires

In all, more than 12,000 square kilometres of British Columbia landscape went up in flames in 2017, according to the latest government data released in August, making it the worst wildfire season on record. Any hope that was an anomaly has been blown away during the 2018 season, which is now the second worst on record. By August 22 morning, more than 9,640 square kilometres of the province had burned — a total that will only climb in the days ahead.

Efforts to mobilize response have been ongoing, and really got into swing this week when the Mayor of Quesnel, BC, Bob Simpson continued work to follow up on Quesnel’s Forestry Think Tank session, which tool place May 3-4 2018 at Quesnel’s North Cariboo Community Campus.

That Think Tank was attended by approximately 70 forestry sector professionals, as well as the Honourable Doug Donaldson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, to explore opportunities to use the city as an “incubator” to accelerate research and development in the domains of alternative forest management and innovative manufacturing and processing of forest fibre.

Simpson said he will meet with the B.C. Community Forest Association and then with staff from FLNRORD. In a phone call, Simpson said his meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday will be to discuss forest sector initiatives coming out of the Think Tank that have to do with land base management. As well, Simpson will be spending the day touring a modular home manufacturing facility, and a number of modular home building sites which are for both market housing and BC Housing sponsored facilities.

Back to the BC wildfire situation, it seems that for the past two years, the hot and dry weather that has allowed so many large fires to develop in BC has been driven by a blocking ridge of high pressure that’s been stuck over the province for much of the summer. The air beneath that ridge sinks, warms and dries, creating perfect conditions for a “raging inferno” if it sticks around for a week or more, according to Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, that stagnant pattern has developed because the jet stream is weakening as the Arctic warms, a phenomenon that could spell more bad news for BC.

In the meantime, aside from the more technical efforts of Bob Simpson and the Think Tank, wildfire experts would like to see more proactive measures being employed across BC, like controlled burning, thinning out forests around communities, preparing homes and businesses through the Fire Smart program, developing early warning systems for wildfires and allowing more fires to burn if they aren’t threatening human homes, lives or infrastructure.

This is the same advice being given by wildfire ecologists in the US, particularly on US Forest Service lands, which have been woefully underutilized and not actively managed for the past 30 years.