2019 CSCE Annual Conference - Laval (Greater Montreal)

2019 CSCE Annual Conference - Laval (Greater Montreal) Conference

Strategic assessment of current and future exposure of wildland human interface and communities to wildfire in Canada

Dr. Yan Boulanger, Natural Resources Canada (Presenter)
Dr. Sylvie Gauthier, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Sandy Erni, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Amy Christianson, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Solange Nadeau, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. Brian Eddy, Natural Resources Canada
Mrs. Lynn Johnston, Natural Resources Canada

Wildland fires and human systems maintain a dynamic relationship driven by the successive interferences of one another. Interactions among climate, fuels, ignitions, and humans largely regulate wildfire activity, thereby determining where and under what conditions flammable landscapes burn. In the wildland-human interface (WHI, which includes the wildland urban interface [WUI], the wildland industrial interface [WII] and the wildland infrastructure interface [WInfI]), the imperative is often to protect life and property from destructive fires, while also conserving biodiversity. If burning represents a direct threat to human infrastructures, smoke from the combustion of biomass is also recognised to be harmful to human health and constitutes one of the primary risk factor leading to people evacuations. In this regard, threats may be particularly high for First Nations which are located in regions with high fire activities. Under climate change, fire-prone conditions are predicted to increase by 1.5 to 4 times before the end of the century across Canada. Currently, there are no comprehensive Canadian-wide fire exposure assessment for the WHI, nor for the quantification of the population that is exposed to different fire return intervals under current and future fire regimes. Using a number of new Canadian Forest Service (CFS) databases including regional fire exposure, fuel maps and climate projections, we assessed the current and future area of each type of WHI exposed to high fire return intervals, as well as the current and future population facing high fire return intervals in boreal Canada. Slightly more than 10%, 20% and 15% of the WUI, WInfI and WII are respectively currently experiencing short (< 250 yrs) fire return intervals under current climate conditions. These proportions would increase to 28%, 42% and 41% respectively after 2071 under the RCP 8.5 climate scenario.  According to the 2011 census, about 12.3% of the Canadian population (4.1M) reside within the WUI with First Nations being overrepresented within the WUI. Currently, ca 5% of the Canadian population live in landscapes with short (< 250 yrs) fire return intervals, including >15% of First Nation population. These numbers would surge to >17% and >37% respectively in 2100 under RCP 8.5. Much higher fire exposure in the future within the WHI should trigger severe environmental, social and economic consequences. Our study should greatly help provinces, municipalities, agencies, industries and First Nations to know where the risks currently are and will be in the future and which mitigation measures are to be implemented.