A national and cultural identity ingrained with the expansive landscapes and immense natural resources that it encompasses. The history and future of Canada is deeply intertwined in the relationship between humans and their environment.
Fire explored Canadian landscapes almost as soon as biotic life arose from retreating ice sheets. The early divergence of forest types into mountain, coastal, woodlands, prairie, and of course, boreal, contextualized fire. Fed by a consistent source of lightening (that even in present-day Canada accounts for 47% of wildfire ignitions) created the first semblances of fire regimes and ecology. Then broadcast burning practices utilized by First Nation peoples, beginning 23,000 years ago, furthered solidified the ecological adaptation for fire’s processes. The inextricable linkage between human hand, fire, and landscape often propagated beneficial social and ecological services.
With European suppression of indigenous fire and practices, came different definitions to what constituted “natural resources”, and economic priorities replaced ecological ones. Cultural engagement in wildfire dissipated as individual firefighting agencies sought to remove flames and smoke from the public conscience. Forced to address the wildfire-inertia of boreal ecosystems, Canada’s provinces bolstered large suppression capacities and developed technologies to support them.
The exile of ecological fire succeeded in its short-term goal, the enhancement of natural resource revenue, but generated ominous forest health conditions. In a present day scenario, with increasingly unpredictable climate forecasts, Canada’s provincial wildfire agencies find their preferred tools gradually less applicable. Organizational cultures are not immune to environmental shifts and agency personnel express a level of cognitive dissonance on the continuation of full-suppression reliance. Frustrated by perception of poor agency adaptability, many urge a transfer to proactive prevention and mitigation strategies.