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Canadian forest fire burn rates since 1700: Down down down

28 Jun 2023 | Science Notes

H/T Roger Pielke Jr we note a study published in 2022, by a team of 10 mostly Canadian forest scientists, that examines long-term evidence of forest-fire burn rates at 16 sites across Canada, from the northwest near Alaska to the Gaspé Peninsula. Fire records at each site are established by examining damage to standing trees, which can be dated by position in the tree-ring growth profile, by noting intervals at which all trees in a stand appear to have been eliminated and a new stand appears, etc. And despite the insistence that this spring’s forest fires are the worst thing ever, the picture that emerges is the opposite. Forest fire activity was far worse in the 1700s and 1800s, during the Little Ice Age, and fell through the 20th century. The modern period (after 1980) exhibits historically low forest fire activity. But because it also coincides with historically high media hype activity, you might be excused for thinking otherwise.

The history of fire activity of all 16 sites looks like this:

Source: Chavardes et al. 2020.

The authors note:

“For most of the 16 fire-history study sites, burn rates between 1700 and 1990 showed a particularly strong declining trend during the early- to mid-1900s, corroborating research that compiled fire-history studies in eastern Canadian boreal forests... Compared to the historical period (1700-1990), the modern period (1980-2020) showed less variability in mean burn rates across fire-history study sites and lower mean burn rates at all sites except in Central Ontario, indicating that fire activity in North American boreal forests has predominantly decreased over the combined windows of analysis, and that burn rates during the modern period are broadly within the historical range of variability.”

They add that in the most recent part of the record, there is evidence of increasing burn rates and burn area in the northwest of Canada. But the trend is the opposite in the central and eastern parts.

The authors end their article with the usual deferential tug of the forelock to climate change projections, saying if the planet burns up over the next century Canada’s forests will go with it. But alarmists claim the climate crisis is already here and we are already seeing the “new normal”. If it were true, the modern period would look much worse than the pre-Confederation era. Instead we see that during the cool, comfy pre-global climate crisis thingy years forest fires were worse, often far worse, than today. Our new normal involves less fire than the old normal, and is well within the historical range of natural variability. Another alarmist claim just went up in smoke, or lack of it.

2 comments on “Canadian forest fire burn rates since 1700: Down down down”

  1. A whole host of human behaviours contribute to forest fires, e.g.: (i) burn suppression, causing a build-up of dead tinder / fuel; (ii) flicking cigarette butts out the car window; (iii) campfires; (iv) sparks from trains; (v) arson; etc. As population increases in a given geographical territory, you would expect these habits / technology / policy factors to have complex interacting effects, both negative and positive at different times and places. It is impossible to disentangle these effects from natural variability, much less from temperature fluctuations. Pretending that anyone knows anything useful about the historical causes of forest fires and trends in acreage burned is another idiocy to lay at the feet of the cult of climate. The world isn't static enough, controlled experiments are not possible. "Attribution science" is a contradiction in terms.

  2. Private forests with higher density of road networks interspersed with farms, residential acreages etc have the benefit of being able to access fires quickly whereas vast tracts of public land where road networks are deactivated rather than being maintained, or non existent make rapid attack by fire fighters more difficult with the consequence of slow response and often no response in remote locations. 89% of Canada's forests are publicly owned.

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