Canada’s Forest Fires Due to Policy, Not Climate Change

Many headlines over the past days have conveyed the same message as that of the Washington Post on June 2: “Unprecedented Canadian fires intensified by record heat, climate change”. In reality, the wildfires that have ravaged over three millions of hectares of forest this year in Canada are neither unprecedented nor the result of climate change. They are primarily the result of both malign neglect, and opposition by so-called “green” and “environmental” groups to the proper management of forests.

Already in prehistoric times, man had learned that one needs to practice what is now called “prescribed burning” — that is, the burning of the leaves, branches, and underbrush, when the weather and wind are right, before they accumulate in large amounts. That way, the burn will get rid of the flammable material without getting hot enough to set the large trees on fire.

Prescribed burning is practiced in certain parts of the United States, but in Canada, where it was sporadically carried out before, it has been abandoned over the last three decades. The inevitable result of the inaction on the ground is that the fires set, for example, by lightning get hot enough to set the big trees on fire. Worse, under the right conditions, the crowns of the trees catch on fire, and that spreads at the speed of the wind.

Although scorched grounds and fields may look desolate after a fire, the burning process, when done in a controlled way, can actually help regenerate the soil, quicken re-sprouting of plants, and allow greater plant diversity, as indigenous peoples know very well, including in Canada.

In addition to the blatant failure to respect the basic principles of forestry and resource management, successive Canadian governments have cut the funds needed to fund the personnel and the equipment to fight wildfires competently, when they do break out. The country has only 55 Canadair water bombers, which have not been produced since 2015.

As for manpower, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has repeatedly warned of the shortfall in firefighters, whose numbers have declined over the past years, and who generally lack training. Moreover, well over half of the country’s firefighters are volunteers, and their numbers decreased by 10% just between 2021 and 2022. And there is no national firefighting force in the country, as it’s decentralized to the provinces.

For a country belonging to the G7 group of industrialized nations, this is a dismal record.

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