Natural disturbances like fire are part of a forest’s natural life cycle. They cause destruction, but that destruction is what sets the stage for renewal – some tree species have even adapted specifically to open their cones and release seeds in response to fire. Fires also clear the forest canopy to let sunlight in and release nutrients that are stored in the material scattered on the forest floor, which stimulates new growth and helps the forest regenerate.
These benefits mean that stopping forest fires entirely would be taking away something our forests need. But fire can also create air pollution, threaten water supply and pose a risk to communities caught in their path. In Alberta, we use a combination of strategies to mitigate these risks without losing the benefits of fire for our forests. Harvesting is a tool that mimics the benefits of fire without the associated safety risks.
Creating buffer zones that limit and guide the path of fires also helps protect human structures and communities. Controlled burns and strategic harvesting of older, drier areas that are more susceptible to burning also help reduce the risks associated with fire, without preventing them entirely. Researchers, government and the forest industry all work together to keep people safe while making sure the needs of our forests are met.