By Kristi Iverson –
The South Cariboo Sustainability Society and Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society are hosting two Era of Megafires events (November 29 in 100 Mile House and November 30 in Williams Lake) to help us understand the causes of the fires of 2017 and what we can do to prevent future fires from causing catastrophic damage.
The event features a video presentation with Dr. Paul Hessburg created by North 40 Productions. Dr. Hessburg has spent decades researching large wildfires and trying to understand the conditions that cause them. His film presents the ecological and social causes of what has caused megafires and how individuals, leaders, voters, and different levels of government can work to prevent future catastrophic forest fires.
Much of the forested area in the Cariboo Region has undergone decades of forest management including fire suppression. Three things govern fire behaviour: fuels, topography, and weather. Of these three, the only one we can influence, and have influenced, is fuels. Fuels include dead trees in our forests and, more importantly, the live trees: their density and arrangement is a big driver of fire behaviour.
The exclusion of fire from our forests and grasslands and other forestry practices have caused most forests to become drastically thicker than they were prior to European settlement. Our Douglas-fir forests were largely open, widely spaced forests with grasses, shrubs, and scattered young trees in the understory. Frequent fires were mostly low severity, largely burning through the understory, and killing most small trees to keep the forest in an open state. Last summer we saw how there can be severe fire effects when wildfire strikes these dense, altered forests. We will never eliminate fire in our forests, but we can reduce its severity, particularly around our communities.
We hope this film will begin to bring an understanding of what caused us to experience such an extreme fire year and help us begin to think about the steps we need to take to prevent this in the future.
Kristi is a professional biologist specializing in plant ecology. She lives in Lac la Hache. She specializes in dry forest, grassland, and wetland ecosystems in the southern interior of British Columbia. Kristi worked with other professionals to complete a fire history study in the dry Douglas-fir forests of the Cariboo Plateau.