TIME FOR ACTION
By Laura King
In September, as I wrote this, Canada was in the throes of a federal election campaign, during which climate change and climate policy were issues, but not the main issues.
Managing the COVID-19 pandemic, affordable childcare and housing, and economic recovery trumped climate change and climate policy on the election hustings, despite one of the busiest wildfires seasons on record with 6,224 fires as of Sept. 26, compared to 3,665 last year.
While the key political parties produced climate action platforms and policies of varying substance, including the winning Liberal promise to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030, Canadians were more focussed on pandemic relief.
IAWF president Toddi Steelman writes in her President’s Desk column on page 5 about a tweet posted by a worn-out British Columbia firefighter reeling after social media trolls posted negative comments that cut to the core.
British Columbia – a massive province with hundreds of thousands of hectares of wildland – experienced 1,610 wildfires this season, most started by lightning. Extreme fires in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern Ontario also tested the mettle of Canada’s wildland firefighters.
There were dozens of evacuation orders in Canada this summer. Wildland crews from South Africa and Mexico provided relief to overwhelmed crews.
While Canada’s wildfire situation is significant, it’s less dire than the circumstances in some other countries. Nonetheless, with climate change a proven phenomenon, and the numbers of lightning strikes increasing, Canada must get its ducks in a row; even with the now-elected Liberal government climate promise, it will take decades to move the proverbial needle.
Therefore, in the meantime, as Steelman writes, “A more resilient approach would begin by adapting to the more uncertain realities taking place in our ecosystems, acknowledging that we cannot put out all fires, enhancing the shared responsibility for preparedness in at-risk communities, working to communicate these complexities to the public, and devoting more resources to members of the wildland firefighting community for their own professional and emotional resilience as they weather these ambiguous and extraordinary times.”
The IAWF’s climate paper (page 16) is a collaborative effort and a work in progress that will eventually be put to policy makers, primarily in the United States, and will serve as a model for other countries.
Its three calls to action – to identify ecosystems most at risk to large, high-severity wildfire, to identify and enhance fire-adapted communities, and to foster safe and effective interagency wildfire response – are big undertakings that require global collaboration and commitment.
For IAWF members, it’s imperative to help to refine the position paper through feedback to [email protected], and then to participate in the dissemination of the final product and its calls to action.
Coincidentally, over the last couple of years, some key players in Canada’s wildland arena have put together a much-needed National Guide for Wildland-Urban Interface Fires (page 22). This newly released document fills a gap – a lack of national wildfire guidance for Canada’s WUI areas.
As Allison Mills and Nouredine Benichou with the National Research Council Canada write, “. . . the threat posed by WUI fires is growing as urban areas expand into wildlands, rural areas increase in population, and wildfires become more frequent and severe due to climate change. The risk of WUI fires is expected to increase both in regions of Canada with a long history of wildfires and in those with no such history.”
The guide is intended to help minimize the impact of WUI fires by reducing their likelihood and severity, inhibiting their spread, and improving the effectiveness of community response.
On page 34, an interview with Pau Costa Foundation general manager Jordi Vendrell delves into Spain’s wildland fire crisis, and the impact of climate change: larger, more ferocious fires.
As reporter Maria Santos writes, “This dynamic of fewer fires, but more virulent and intense, is due to two fundamental factors: depopulation, and climate change.”
Unintentionally, there’s a climate-change theme woven throughout this issue. IAWF’s recent member survey indicated that climate change is a No. 1 concern and topic of interest. Tell us your stories so we can tell others.
Correction: A photo on page 40 of the Q3 2021 issue was taken by Stephen Wilkes, an air observer for New South Wales Rural Fire Service on Jan. 18, 2003.