Last year marked the most destructive wildfire season in the recorded history of British Columbia (BC). Provincial data reveals that a staggering 2,245 wildfires ravaged over 2.84 million hectares of forest and land. This number is double the previous record of 1.35 million hectares burned in 2018.

2023 Was A Concerning Trend

Jens Wieting, senior policy and science advisor at the Sierra Club of BC, expresses deep concern over the extent of forest destruction in BC and across Canada in 2023. He describes it as a highly emotional topic due to alarming trends.

“The area of forests burned both in BC and across Canada in 2023 was horrific… It’s a really emotional topic because the trends are very concerning.”

Jens Wieting, senior policy and science advisor at the Sierra Club of BC.

The 2024 Outlook

The outlook for the 2024 wildfire season appears grim, not only in BC but also in Alberta. Alberta has already announced an early start to the wildfire season in February, a month ahead of the usual March 1 start date.

“Drought continues to affect many parts of the province, and wildfire risk is higher than usual for this time of year”

Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests

During the Province’s seasonal update in March, the Minister of Forests highlighted the higher-than-usual wildfire risk due to ongoing drought conditions and the lower-than-average snowpack.

Climate Change and Land-Use Change

Lori Daniels, the Koerner Chair of the Centre for Wildfire Coexistence at UBC, attributes the intensification of wildfires to both climate change and over a century of land-use change. Since the early 2000s, larger areas are burning, fires are becoming more intense, and wildfire seasons are lengthening.

“We have definitely seen in the last 20 years a major change in the way that fire is spreading and heating in our forests,”

Lori Daniels, the Koerner Chair of the Centre for Wildfire Coexistence at UBC

The 2024 Wildfire Season: Is BC Prepared?

Investments and Preparedness

BC is taking proactive action earlier than ever to mitigate the potential impact of wildfires.

The Province is making significant investments to enhance its preparedness. BC Wildfire Service has received $38 million to boost hiring, resulting in a doubling of applicants for wildland firefighters compared to 2023. The number of prescribed and cultural fires for 2024 is nearly three times higher than the previous year.

Additionally, the BC is allocating at least $77 million to secure more aircraft and firefighting equipment. Millions of dollars have also been allocated to strengthen drought preparedness and support agricultural producers.

Is it enough?

Despite these commitments, Lori Daniels believes that BC is still not adequately prepared. She argues that the forestry industry needs revitalization and revolutionization.

Current practices focus on cutting the largest trees for specific purposes, while the remaining biomass is burned, contributing to atmospheric pollution.

Daniels emphasizes the need to rebalance forest management practices and proactively treat larger areas for wildfires.

Protecting Old Growth and Primary Forests

Jens Wieting echoes the call for forestry practice reform, particularly in protecting old growth and primary forests. These forests play a crucial role in reducing the impacts of climate change. Wieting advocates for a shift from clear-cutting to selective logging and the preservation of more forests.

Wieting emphasizes that BC must address the root cause of the wildfire problem by taking stronger climate action to reduce emissions and protect old growth forests.

Individual Responsibility

“The onus is on all of us to be part of the solution,” Daniels concludes. “Not part of the problem.”