Reflecting on the BC wildfires of 2017
By Hillary Page, Director of Science and Stewardship, BC Region, Nature Conservancy of Canada
A prescribed burn in 2010 (Photo by NCC)
Fire has long played a vital role in the ecological balance of forests. From grass fires, to stand-replacing fires, to small natural wildfires, to fires historically carried out by Indigenous peoples across their traditional territories, fire has the ability to regenerate life and promote the growth of plants and trees.
Of course, fire can also be devastating. This summer we were witness to the terrible power that can decimate homes and communities and endanger livelihoods. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) would like to take this opportunity to express our condolences and support for all those affected by the fires.
The wildfires have also had an effect on NCC’s plans this summer. In July, after the provincial government declared a state of emergency, we made the decision to suspend access to all of NCC's conservation lands in British Columbia in order to reduce the risk of human-caused fires. Although this decision limited public access to beautiful natural areas, delayed important stewardship work and resulted in the cancellation of volunteer events, it was important to us as an organization to prioritize public safety.
NCC’s lands were largely untouched by this summer’s wildfires, with the exception of a portion of Kootenay River Ranch as part of the Island Pond fire in August near Canal Flats, a few small and quickly contained fires on Darkwoods and some potential, but as yet unconfirmed, impact on NCC’s conservation holdings in the Klinankini Valley.
With the onset of cooler, wetter weather and the decreased fire risk across most of the province, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is once again welcoming visitors to many of its BC conservation areas. Under normal conditions we encourage and welcome low-impact recreation use of these special sites, and we are happy to open them up to the public once more now that the risk of wildfire has abated. We thank you for respecting the closures and welcome locals and tourists alike to visit these spectacular examples of BC’s natural diversity.
Part of the challenge for conservation groups and all those involved in the management of land is reducing the risk of wildfires while protecting public safety and the balance of natural systems. With the changing climate conditions, as well as efforts to suppress fires, there are increasing amounts of fuel stored in forests, which raises the chance of catastrophic wildfire such as we have seen. In the face of a changing climate, managing fuel and fire risk will be one of the most important stewardship activities NCC can do.
At the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we seek to conserve land in ways that support natural systems, increase ecological resilience and reduce habitat loss. Through prescribed burns and fuel reduction programs such as those at NCC's Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve on Vancouver Island and on lands in the East Kootenay, we have seen how controlled fire and fuel reduction can create space for native plants and species to thrive while creating fire resilient systems. We hope to find more ways to support these regenerative fires in the future, and minimize the destructive power of wildfires over the land.