Foundation Gift Supports Wildfire Research

The Intact Foundation will support valuable research into wildfire prevention and management, and climate change adaptation in British Columbia with a gift of $250,000 over three years.

Led by Dr. Lori Daniels, the research project is in collaboration with the St’uxwtéws (Bonaparte) Band and the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Society.

The wildfires of 2017 burned a record-breaking 1.2 million hectares of BC forest, only to be exceeded in 2018 when 1.35 million hectares burned. Combined, the 2017-18 fire suppression costs exceeded $1 billion and the indirect costs on human health and well-being, community sustainability, and forest resources will be in the billions.

Two key factors in uncontrollable wildfires are prolonged periods of hot, dry, and windy weather and over-abundant forest fuels. This research project digs into these factors to determine how best to increase forest resilience to climate change, and to help BC communities reduce their vulnerability to fire.

“Our vision for this project is to develop science-based strategies for proactive fire management and post-fire recovery that take climate change into account,” Lori Daniels says. “I’m looking forward to working with our partners, especially the St’uxwtéws band members, and of course our forestry students, to conduct this research in the field.”

The research project has three key components: fire suppression effects on forest density, post-fire recovery of forests, and integration of indigenous knowledge and science to guide adaptation.

To better understand the origin of very dense forests (up to 22,000 trees per hectare) that are about a century old, researchers are reconstructing forest histories by analyzing tree rings. The outcomes will provide much-needed guidelines for reducing forest density to mitigate hazardous fuel loads while improving carbon storage.

Typically, after a fire, dead trees are salvaged and new seedlings are planted, sometimes at high density. However evidence from 2017 and 2018 fires suggests that climate change is calling these strategies into question. Debris from past logging and overly dense forests contributed to the megafires of 2017, in particular the Elephant Hill fire that burned 135 homes and almost half of the St’uxwtéws traditional territory.

Researchers, including UBC students and St’uxwtéws research interns, will measure burned and unburned areas, with and without salvage logging. The goal is to document the regrowth of trees and plants in burned areas and measure the impacts of salvage logging on forest recovery. The results will contribute to fire-behaviour models that can forecast the risk of re-burning over the short and long terms.

Working closely with St’uxwtéws band members, researchers will explore natural forest regeneration and cultivation of culturally important plants. They will pilot the effectiveness of natural gardens as buffers in the space between forests and communities. And they will develop educational workshops for children to help them learn more about preparing for wildfires using science and indigenous ecological knowledge.

The Impact Foundation comments, “The 2017 and 2018 wildfires have entrenched the fact that adapting to climate change impacts is more important than ever. Dr. Daniels’ work in providing post-fire recovery strategies to BC’s new Wildfire Resiliency initiative is paramount in ensuring that community resilience is a top priority.”

The Intact Foundation is the charitable arm of Intact Financial Corporation, the largest provider of property and casualty insurance in Canada. Since 2004 the Intact Foundation has donated over $31 million in charitable funding to over 1400 organizations across Canada.

The Faculty is deeply grateful to the Intact Foundation for their generous contribution to this research project that will ultimately make a difference in communities all over British Columbia.