Has Poor Forest Management Lead to Increased Natural Disturbance in the Canadian Boreal Forest?

by cegerdee on November 24, 2016 - 3:59pm

Climate change is real. Many would argue that planetary warming is a natural occurrence due to cycling between warm and cold periods yet, others might also argue that the earth has been much warmer due to higher carbon dioxide levels in the past. While we are experiencing a warming period in the earth’s cycle, the rate of warming and increase of carbon dioxide levels are larger than anything previously experienced. This is mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels by humans which contributes to greenhouse gas concentrations. Greenhouse gases trap incoming heat from the sun rather than returning energy back to space contributing to increasing temperatures. Temperature increases are having a large impact on the ecosystems and natural processes occurring on the planet.

In the newspaper article “Climate change bringing larger forest fires, more bugs, disease, Natural Resources Canada warns” the reporter explains that the frequency and intensity of natural disasters has been increasing and will continue to do so in northern countries due to climate change. The article states that a warming climate will cause a 50% increase in the occurrence of forest fires, tree diseases and insect infestations in the Canadian Boreal Forest. Furthermore, the number of forest fires are only slightly above the 10-year average, however, the area burned by those fires are 50% higher and caused the evacuation of 125 communities in 2015 alone. Steve Taylor, a Natural Resources Canada scientist was interviewed and commented that the increase in forest fires will have large regional variability with different impacts depending on the fire management in the region.

Perhaps this is indicative of poor forest management in the past. Generally, forests have been managed to prevent forest fires through a method deemed “command and control” which is carried out by the state with clearly defined goals. In the case of forests, management has occurred with the goal of controlling nature to harvest natural resources. In doing so, there is an effort to reduce threats to create a highly predictive outcome for management. In a forest setting, this causes an accumulation of material that increases the severity of forest fires when they occur. There should be a switch from “command and control” management to “adaptive” management. In “adaptive” management, the forest in managed to ensure that it can respond to natural disasters more effectively which is defined as the resilience of the system. It also acknowledges that natural systems do not have predictable outcomes due to the complexity of nature and that there is always uncertainty in the system. This will be vital if climate change is expected to cause high levels of natural disturbances.

Uncertainty will be a major issue associated with changing climate. The frequency and intensity of forest fires, pest outbreaks, and tree diseases is still uncertain. The impact it will have on resource management is also unclear. Scientists are aware that outbreaks are happening but their extent and severity are still unknown. Conflict may arise among those managing the forest as prescribed burnings to reduce damage from more intense natural fires may be required. Prescribed burnings may harm ecological or economic profit through the destruction of harvestable trees.

Climate change is unpredictable. Humans view disturbance negatively as we view nature as unchanging. Humans seek balance and stability but nature is constantly adapting. There will always be conflict between conservation, biodiversity, employment, and the economy. This conflict will become more profound as forest managers attempt to manage the Boreal for everything we deem as important, but also for the uncertainty that climate change presents.



Cheadle, B. (2016, September 28). Climate change bringing larger forest fires, more bugs, diseases, Natural Resource Canada warns. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/09/28/climate-change-bringing-l...