Canada’s “Onerous” and “Restrictive” Rules and Massive Cuts in Forest Service Staff Explain 2023 Summer Wildfires

(p. A10) Canada’s capacity to prevent wildfires has been shrinking for decades because of budget cuts, a loss of some of the country’s forest service staff, and onerous rules for fire prevention, turning some of its forests into a tinderbox.

. . .

People who study Canada’s response say it’s been weakened by a variety of forces, including local and national budget cuts for forests, cumbersome safeguards for fire prevention and a steep reduction in the number of forest service employees.

. . .

Some communities of Indigenous people — whom wildfires disproportionately affect because they often live in fire-prone areas — have hewed to the practice of controlled burning.

Two years ago, while a record-breaking heat wave exacerbated wildfires across British Columbia, some of the flames roared close to the Westbank First Nation, an Indigenous community in the Okanagan Valley. But years of thinning the forest and managing their land using cultural burning practices prevented the fire from causing any major damage to the community.

Across Canada, there are a handful of controlled burns each year, according to partial figures compiled by the National Forestry Database. Foresters seeking to perform them must go through a lengthy process to get approval from a province.

. . .

In some fire seasons, the duration of the approval process exceeds the narrow window when weather conditions are favorable for controlled burns.

. . .

“Essentially, you’ve handcuffed folks — foresters and silviculturists — from being able to get off successful prescribed burns because we made the rules so onerous and so restrictive” causing more wildfire fuel to be left on the forest floor, said Sarah Bros, a forester and co-owner at Merin Forest Management based in North Bay, Ontario, who has done prescribed burning.  . . .

. . . in the late 1990s , , , the Canadian Forest Service’s staff size [shrunk] from 2,200 to the 700 people it now employs.

For the full story, see:

Vjosa Isai and Ian Austen. “Cutbacks in Fire Prevention Haunt Canada.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 10, 2023): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2023, and has the title “Canada’s Ability to Prevent Forest Fires Lags Behind the Need.”)

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