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Preventing forest fires


For the last two weeks, fires have raged across our province.


My hope is for some rain in June, but most forecasts call for a dry, hot summer.


The changing climate, paired with shifts in forest fire prevention and forestry practices, brings about a unique set of challenges.


There has certainly been a lot of conversation about how the fires affect our livability negatively, and how it creates health stressors in our environment.


Forest fires are a devastating environmental phenomenon, particularly in their role in accelerating climate change.


As a fire sweeps through a forest, it not only destroys the trees that are a crucial part of our ecosystem but also releases vast amounts of stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.


This vicious cycle escalates the greenhouse effect and aggravates global warming, posing dire consequences for our planet's future.


How much CO2 does a forest fire release?


The forest fire season of 2021 released three and a half times – that’s right, 3.5 TIMES – the total amount of BC’s yearly CO2 emissions.


Think about that for a moment. If we add up the three fire seasons in the last five years, that is 10 years of emissions in those three fire seasons.


Simultaneously, there's a human side to this crisis that we cannot ignore.


Wildfires also pose immediate dangers to the lives and properties of those living in fire-prone areas.


Additionally, the smoke and pollutants released during these fires contribute to a variety of health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The mental health impacts—fear, anxiety, stress, and grief—are profound and long-lasting, often overshadowed by the physical threats.


But the question remains, how did we get here?


Historically, our approach to forest management was primarily focused on extinguishing wildfires as quickly as possible to protect communities and valuable timber resources.


However, we now understand that this approach has inadvertently created a buildup of dense, dry vegetation – a perfect fuel for intense, uncontrolled wildfires.


We must acknowledge that fire plays a natural role in maintaining the health and diversity of our forests.


Consequently, a paradigm shift in forest fire prevention strategies is needed.


Our forestry practices used to incorporate controlled or "prescribed" burns.


These managed, low-intensity fires help reduce the hazardous fuel load in forests and create healthier, more resilient ecosystems.


They are a preventative measure, mitigating the severity of future wildfires and limiting their devastating effects.


There were often complaints about the air quality when these burns would take place, but many would agree that a short time frame of smoke is better than the lengthy ones we have experienced lately.


Climate change adds another layer to this complex problem.


Rising overall temperatures and changing precipitation patterns create drier conditions, increasing the likelihood of intense wildfires.


Our actions today can either exacerbate or mitigate these changes. Hence, addressing climate change must be a priority in our wildfire management strategies.


Forest fire season is a daunting challenge that demands immediate attention and robust action.


In my role as the Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change Strategy, I assure you that we are pressing government to meet this challenge head-on.


Government needs to modernize our forestry practices, incorporating science and traditional Indigenous knowledge to create resilient forests. Efforts to address climate change need to go faster.


However, the solution lies not only in the hands of policy and decision-makers but in every resident of our community.


I urge each one of you to understand the risks, take preventive measures, and stay informed.


By working together, we can protect our beautiful forests, our communities, and our future.


As we face this forest fire season, let us remember that we are not only fighting fires; we are combating climate change, protecting our health, and safeguarding our mental well-being.


Let's stand together in this fight, because our forests and futures depend on it.


My question to you is this: What do you think we should do to mitigate forest fires?


I love hearing from you, and read every email I receive.


Please email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call the office at 250-712-3620.

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