Climate change forces B.C. to update wildfire strategy

Climate change forces B.C. to update wildfire strategy

01 October 2010

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Canada —  British Columbia Forest Minister Pat Bell has introduced an overhaul of the province’s wildfire strategy to take into account the increasing frequency and intensity of forest fires brought about by climate change.

The past two fire seasons have racked up bills between three and four times the long-term average cost for fighting fires in B.C., and the growing instability in local weather patterns means things will have to be done differently, Bell said in an interview.

“We need to start thinking about how we harvest our forests to minimize the ability of fire complexes to grow together.”

In July, several small fires in central B.C.’s Cariboo region linked together through wildlife corridors to form one large fire, forcing evacuations and a very expensive firefighting operation. Harvesting forests to create man-made breaks between stands of timber that mimic the natural fire breaks exploited by firefighters could help contain fires, Bell said.

The Wildfire Management Strategy notes that “record” fire years — as measured by area destroyed — are coming with increasing frequency.

Climate models predict more of the same as temperatures rise in the north and interior of the province.

And there is some evidence that measurable climate change is already here. Average temperatures recorded in Canada’s north this past summer are among the highest in 63 years of data collection, according to preliminary figures released by Environment Canada.

Temperatures in northern B.C. and Yukon were slightly less than one degree Celsius above the recorded average, but the warming trend was more pronounced in the most northerly regions.

Most strongly indicative of a warming trend is that six of the past 10 summers in Canada’s Arctic tundra have been ranked in the top 10 hottest summers recorded in that region since 1948.

Bell said that even as recently as the 1990s, his hometown of Prince George, B.C., would get at least a week or two of -40 C weather during the winter.

“We haven’t seen those kind of temperatures in 10 or 12 years,” he said. “Lightning storms that used to roll through and drop rain are now dry lightning storms, which are far more dangerous.”

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