Just one year later, the wildfire season in British Columbia broke records with 2017 wildfires that consumed over 12,000 square kilometers (4,633 square miles) of forest lands.
Both of these incidents, the Foret McMurray fire and the B.C. fire season in 2017 – have been linked to climate change in two separate research papers published earlier this year by scientists with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
University of Alberta wildland fire Professor Mike Flannigan says we “are seeing climate change in action,” reports CTV News Canada.
“The Fort McMurray fire was 1 1/2 to six times more likely because of climate change. The 2017 record-breaking B.C. fire season was seven to 11 times more likely because of climate change.”
This year, the largest community evacuated in Alberta due to the wildfires is High Level. The huge Chuckegg Creek fire, south of the town, is still burning out of control and has consumed over 2,660 square kilometers (1,112 square miles). Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly said the cause of the fires is complex, reports The Star.
“I accept the science on anthropogenic climate change,” he said at a news conference recently. “But, in this particular instance, I can tell you we are on the five-year average for forest fires in Alberta.
“The large one right now is happening in an area where there has not been a fire for 80 years and so, regardless of other factors, it was due eventually for a large wildfire.”
— Calgary Sun (@calgarysun) June 9, 2019
The whole story needs to be told
Actually, Kenney is only partly right. This is because he is not telling the public the whole story, which is something politicians do today.
“Northern Alberta is covered by the boreal forest,” says Flannigan. “The boreal forest burns. It survives and thrives in a regime of semi-regular stand-replacing, stand-renewing high-intensity fire.” And wildfires are complex entities.
Elise Stolte, in a piece in the Edmonton Journal last week says: “Traditionally, fires rolled across most parts of Alberta every 30 to 70 years, depending on the area. After the fire, the boreal forest would naturally progress from deciduous trees like aspen and poplar to coniferous trees such as pine or fir over the course of decades.”
Keep in mind that what she describes has been the normal course of events for most forests for generations – at least until humans began encroaching into them. Once humans entered the forests, to cut down trees and clear the lands for new settlements, any wildfires were fought to protect homes and businesses.
Stolte writes that fighting the fires “also gradually caused a shift in forest composition. More stands of spruce, fir, and pine now provide higher-value lumber for forest companies but also flame up like torches and burn more intensely when a fire gets established.”
“Today, forestry officials seek to preserve the diversity in tree stands that remain. But they allow forest companies to spray glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, from helicopters to kill off aspen and regrow stands of drier conifers,” she adds.
“Combine that with climate change — hotter, drier weather, and more lightning storms to give ignition. It’s not a pretty picture.”
“Northern Alberta is covered by the boreal forest,” says Flannigan. “The boreal forest burns. It survives and thrives in a regime of semi-regular stand-replacing, stand-renewing high-intensity fire.” However, adding in variables, like hotter, drier weather and the impacts of civilization, Flannagan says the 2.5 million hectares a year of forests burned has already doubled since the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“My colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change. I can’t be any more clear than that.”