Climate Change Is Driving Canada’s Worst-Ever Wildfire Season

Fire Map, June 8. 2023 / Canadian Natural Resources

Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness said that 9.4 million acres of forests have already burned in Canada, 15 times higher than the 10-year average. And, unfortunately, this is just the start of the summer wildfire season. The Canadian government points to climate change as the culprit.

Wildfires are common in Canada, but “it is unusual for blazes to be burning simultaneously in the east and west,” Reuters reported. There have been more than 2,300 wildfires just this year. Many of the worst fires have occurred in the Eastern province of Quebec, where 11,000 people have been evacuated. Five Canadian provinces, covering a broad swath of the country, have been impacted.

Climate change is causing abnormal weather patterns, increased temperatures, and droughts, leading to drier forests. When combined with growing forest fuels — which include combustible pine needles, twigs, shrubs, and dead trees — wildfire risks significantly increase.

In additional to abnormally dry conditions, extreme heat has been cited as a cause of the early, widespread conflagrations this year. The Washington Post reports that the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Quebec have “experienced record heat.” Areas in Alberta recorded temperatures more than 12.6 F hotter than in a typical May.

Parts of Canada have experienced a “heat dome,” a high-pressure system, which spurred on early fires in its prairie region. Florida-based meteorologist Jeffery Berardelli told The Guardian, “a ‘heat dome’ like this is a very rare occurrence in this part of the world this time of year. Historically and statistically speaking, it is rarer than a 1-in-1,000-year event.” With climate change, heat domes are expected to occur earlier and more often, putting greater pressure on Canadian and other forests.

In the United States, smoke from the wildfires has blanketed the Midwest, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and is heading towards the South and Southeast. An interactive map from BlueSky Canada shows the extent and movement of the smoke in near real-time. Air quality in New York City and other Northeastern cities have been the worst on record.

Interactive Smoke Map / Blue Sky Canada

So far this year, Americans on the East Coast have inhaled more wildlife smoke than those on the West Coast, argues Heatmap. Wildfires have significantly increased air pollution in Western states for many years, but now it’s a national issue. In The New York Times, David Wallace-Wells writes: “Across the country, the number of people exposed to what are sometimes called extreme smoke days has grown 27-fold in just a decade, and exposure to even-more-extreme smoke events has grown 11,000-fold.”

Landscape architects have been planning and designing solutions to reduce wildfire risks. These include planning communities with wise land-use approaches that reduce fire risks associated with the wildland-urban interface; designing more fire-resilient public landscapes; and protecting communities, schools, and other critical infrastructure through Firewise or defensible space approaches.

ASLA 2021 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Recreation at the Intersection of Resilience – Advancing Planning and Design in the Face of Wildfire. Mariposa County, California. Design Workshop, Inc.

In a post from 2020, Rob Ribe, FASLA, PhD, professor and director of the master’s of landscape architecture program at the University of Oregon, told us: “Fuels reduction is the only known option to increase forests’ resilience. Prescribed portions of young or smaller trees, dead wood, and shrubs could be reduced in hundreds of millions of acres in the American West, and again, later on, in the forests of the eastern states. This is happening at a growing pace, but piecemeal, wherever funding and political support coalesce. It’s not enough to meet the larger challenge.”

With climate change, Canada’s national, provincial, and territorial governments also clearly need more resources to reduce forest fuels, including through controlled burns, and restore forests. The number of out-of-control fires continues to grow.

2 thoughts on “Climate Change Is Driving Canada’s Worst-Ever Wildfire Season

  1. Duane F Christopher 06/08/2023 / 11:59 am

    The forest fires have nothing to do with climate change. Stop spreading non factual, non environmental science in articles. The policies of non burning in forest over decades is what causes the huge forest fires. Forest fires are a natural evolution of forest when they regrow and start a new. It’s an embarrassment to see this kind of subject added to the “climate change” propaganda and false information deluge from even our professional association.

  2. Xavier 06/28/2023 / 11:38 am

    Spot with the false climate change narrative. These wildfires have NOTHING to do with climate change.

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