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Creating a call to action on wildfire

Wildfire and Climate Change Conference hosts 200 delegates in Nelson

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NELSON B.C.—More than 200 diverse delegates gathered in Nelson this week for a Wildfire and Climate Change Conference hosted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands Natural Resource Operations and the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative (SIFCo).

The delegates included representatives from BC Wildfire, Parks Canada, universities, ski resorts and industry, as well as from local governments, First Nations, fire departments, community forests and more.

"It takes a lot of energy to put a conference like this together, so we have a very unique opportunity today here. I don't know when we're going to find the 'oomph' to get us all in the room again, so the next two or three days, really take this chance to talk to people that may have a slightly different perspective than you," said Stephan Martineau, manager and founding director of SIFCo, before the conference's opening session on June 26.

"The climate change challenge that we're facing is so multi-faceted, it's so challenging, there's so many different aspects and so many different people and so many different agencies that need to come together to really address it and find solutions.

"This is our chance in the next two or three days, so really make best use of this time."

The main purpose of the conference was to craft a call to action, organizers said—both at an individual and collective scale.

"That call to action is a foundation of why we're here, and we want to leave with a really clear, well-articulated, well-thought-out call to action, at the individual level and at the collective level," said John Cathro, professional forester and consultant.

Cathro urged delegates to ask each other, and themselves, tough questions, and challenge their preconceived notions and ideas.

"A really important part of what's going to happen here happens in the hallways and happens in conversations, and is going to be informed by some really, really high-quality presentations."

Organizers collected feedback from all delegates throughout the conference, adding it to a comprehensive call to action that will set a course for collaboration between residents, governments, First Nations, land managers, tenure holders and user groups.

Sessions over the three-day conference touched on everything from emergency preparedness, risk mitigation and forest carbon management to case studies of historical fires throughout the province.

The conference opened with three talks related to climate change.

In a talk titled "The Realities of Climate Change," Mel Reasoner of Climate Resilience Consulting walked through a historical understanding of climate change as well as prediction models for the future.

Even if society were to drastically reduce its emissions, the world is about to get a whole lot warmer in the coming decades, Reasoner said.

"The take home message here is that even with the major emissions reductions scenario, the projected temperatures for the 2050s, your average year will be warmer than the most extreme years in terms of mean annual temperature of the 20th century," Reasoner said.

"So 2.6 degrees Celsius in terms of the change in mean annual temperature by the 2050s is a huge jump, and this is the major emissions reduction scenario—it's even worse for the business-as-usual scenario."

Warmer temperatures will mean longer fire seasons with more fires, said University of Alberta professor and director of the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science Mike Flannigan, in a presentation of his own.

With warmer weather comes more lightning, which often leads to wildfires.

"Work done in the U.S. suggests for every degree of warming, there's an increase of about 12 per cent in lightning activity," Flannigan said, noting that similar studies haven't been done for Canada, but would likely produce similar numbers.

Warming temperatures also increase the atmosphere's ability to suck moisture from forest fuels.

"Now, unless there's an increase in precipitation which can compensate for this, our fuels will be drier," Flannigan said, adding that studies show that for every degree of warming, you would need about 15 per cent more precipitation to keep the forests sufficiently wet.

"So let's say this region warms two, three degrees, that means you need a 30 to 45 per cent increase of precipitation during the fire seasons," he said.

"And from what we've seen that's not going to happen."

For more on the Wildfire and Climate Change Conference, check out Pique's July 19 cover feature.

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