2024 February Newsletter

March 1, 2024
By: CPAWS Northern Alberta

2024 February Newsletter

Dear Reader,

Alarm bells have sounded as regions across Alberta experienced water use restrictions promptly followed by the Government of Alberta announcing an early start to the fire season. While we see it as a hopeful sign that the government is reacting to changing conditions, protecting the long-lasting health of Alberta’s lands and waters will require a wholistic approach to how we manage them. This means rethinking current practices and, for example, adopting land management practices that have been used for millennia by Indigenous peoples. This month, we are revisiting forestry myths to examine wildfire risk and its impact on communities, biodiversity and wildlife. To broadly learn about Indigenous-led conservation in Alberta, you can peruse our IPCA page or, learn about Indigenous fire stewardship practices here.

If you find yourself dwelling on the upcoming wildfire season, you are not alone, and we have an upcoming webinar that may be of interest to you. Learn more at the tail end of this newsletter.

4 Forestry Myths to Deconstruct

From our previously published blog “Debunking Forestry Myths: A Closer Look at Wildfire Risk and its Impact on Communities, Biodiversity and Wildlife.”

You may recall that we published this piece in collaboration with CPAWS Southern Alberta in November 2023. If you’ve already read the blog and wish to skip ahead, please do. We want to stress that the forestry industry, while an economic driver in Alberta, holds a tremendous amount of influence and power over how our forests are managed. Which are not necessarily aligned with what protects communities, biodiversity and wildlife from wildfire risk.

We are bringing these myths forward once again to highlight that there are solutions and alternatives to how we are currently managing wildfire risk and that there is still much more that can be done beyond reactionary policy to effectively protect communities and invaluable forests.

MYTH: Clearcut logging should be used to reduce wildfire risk.
FACT: Industrial scale clearcuts are not a good tool for wildfire mitigation.

Here are some factors to consider when evaluating how forestry practices intersect with wildfire mitigation:

  • Forest composition: Forests with greater tree species diversity may be less flammable than single-species conifer monocrops.
  • Fire Refugia: Mosaics of burnt, partially burnt and unburnt forests created by wildfires play a large role in biodiversity and forest regeneration. Current forestry practices reduce fire refugia.
  • Risk of Access: Forestry roads are created for accessing remote harvesting locations, but they also facilitate greater access into the forest, increasing potential for human-caused fires.

MYTH: Increasing the harvest of old growth stands will reduce wildfire risk to communities.
FACT: Targeted treatments that are specifically designed to minimize wildfire risk around communities are the most effective forest management options to reduce risk to those communities.

Here are two targeted treatments that can minimize wildfire risk:

  • Thinning Treatments: Thinning treatments, where selected trees are removed (but not clear cut) and prescribed fires are shown to reduce fire severity in some landscapes.
  • Harvest Design & Strategic Composition: Strategically placing deciduous stands near communities through forest management can break up the continuity of flammable forest and help create fire breaks.

MYTH: Current forest management practices are sustainable because they mimic natural disturbances, like wildfires. 
FACT: Clearcut forest management fails to effectively mimic the ecosystem benefits that wildfire provides. The overarching goal of current forestry management is to maximize timber supply, while ecosystem integrity and fire risk management outcomes are secondary.

Here are natural phenomenon incited by wildfire that cannot be replicated by forest management practices:

  • Post-fire habitat and refugia: Wildfires creates mosaics of different forest composition which in its wake, creates habitat for birds, insect and small mammals .Lower intensity fire provides nutrient inputs into the soil, encouraging re-growth.
  • Successional pathway: Succession refers to the process of change within an ecosystem over time, particularly following a disturbance that changes the pre-existing habitat. The successional pathway differs significantly when comparing the aftermath of a forest harvest with the aftermath of a wildfire. Alberta’s boreal evolved in a fire-disturbance regime and many species are adapted to co-exist with some level of fire. Some plant species even require exposure to fire for their seeds to germinate properly. A clearcut on its own cannot mimic fire.

MYTH: Maintaining or increasing timber harvest levels is compatible with boreal caribou recovery.  
FACT: Forestry activities hinder boreal caribou recovery, especially in areas where caribou habitat is already highly disturbed and caribou herds are precariously small.  

Forestry impacts caribou in several ways:

  • Habitat loss: Harvesting results in direct loss of old conifer forests and associated lichens that take decades to recover and are essential to caribou.
  • Increased predation: Clearcut forestry lures these species such as moose and white-tailed deer into caribou habitat, attracting their predators, particularly wolves, which increases predation rates on caribou
  • Increased Access: Roads constructed to carry out operations and forest harvest itself provide easier access into remote caribou habitat, particularly for wolves, which move faster and further on these linear features.

You can read further explanations about each of the myths and the science and history behind each counter fact in our full blog here.

Save the Date: Fire Risk and Forest Management Webinar with Dr. Jen Beverly

Mark your calendar for April 4th as we host a noon-hour webinar with Dr. Jen Beverly. This webinar will be part of our forestry webinar series in collaboration with CPAWS Southern Alberta. Professor Jen Beverly will dive into the timely topics of fire risk and forest management, especially as they pertain to protecting communities and safeguarding key habitat.


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