How university research helps combat forest fires and climate change

June 5, 2024
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A firefighter in a forest fire / Un pompier dans un feu de forêt
Funding for university research on forest fires and climate change drives innovation at UBC. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

UBC researchers digging deep for innovative solutions for wildfires

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By Dave MacIntyre ©2024 Postmedia Network Inc.

With temperatures reaching new heights across Canada, 2023 was a record year for wildfires in various parts of the country. In B.C., wildfires have been common in areas such as Lytton, West Kelowna and the North Shuswap in recent years.

“There’s a lot of change happening in our environment, which on some levels gives us uncertainty, and I think is really unnerving for people,” says Dr. Lori Daniels, a professor in the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Faculty of Forestry, whose research specializes in forest dynamics.

“But on the other hand, we also have a really strong knowledge base that can help guide us in the direction we need to go.”

Funding research matters

On the whole, Canadian postgraduate research has been noticeably underfunded, lagging behind countries like Japan and the United States. What’s more, there’s a competitive landscape for researchers to receive grants from the federal government.

Luckily for UBC Forestry, they’ve recently announced the launch of a new research centre, the Centre for Wildfire Coexistence, which is getting off the ground thanks to a $5 million donation. Research by Daniels and her colleagues at UBC touches on wildfire management, community impact, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation in the years to come.

“That’s going to take us a long way in terms of establishing the centre, being able to work at that grassroots level and connect with more communities around British Columbia and beyond,” adds Daniels.

UBC researchers are zeroing in on three avenues: understanding historical fire regimes; what happens to an area after a fire; and how society interacts with fires. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

The centre also aims to collaborate and network with organizations across Canada—including other Canadian universities—and internationally, with whom they can share insights and research. For example, two University of Toronto professors are among the scientists leading the Canada-wide Wildland Research Network, while researchers at the University of Moncton are developing algorithms using AI to more accurately and quickly detect forest fires.

Asking questions and finding answers

When it comes to fire-related issues, UBC researchers are zeroing in on three avenues: understanding historical fire regimes; what happens to an area after a fire; and how society interacts with fires.

“There are so many pieces to this puzzle,” she continues, citing climate, mountain topography, vegetation and Indigenous land stewardship as factors.

“[We’re] putting all of those pieces of the puzzle together to identify, ‘How did we get here? Where are the risks, and how can we begin to undo some of the negative, unintended consequences of what we thought were wise actions in the past?’”

As the world learns to become more resilient in the face of climate change and record-breaking temperatures, university research is needed now more than ever to control and prevent wildfires, as well as rebuild areas affected by them.

University research is needed now more than ever to control and prevent wildfires, as well as rebuild areas affected by them. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

But Daniels says the fact that we understand which factors drive wildfires in the first place is cause for optimism, and that we’re well-equipped to prepare for and manage these situations differently. By collaborating and sharing knowledge with peers, more breakthroughs and solutions can be found to keep wildfires at bay.

“When we put our knowledge together, we get a much bigger, fuller picture of what is happening in terms of wildfire in our landscapes,” she continues. “It gives us opportunities, pathways and solutions that I could have never dreamt up on my own.”

UBC is one of many Canadian universities working to find solutions and improve people’s lives across the country and worldwide. To learn more about how universities are working to tackle issues, visit univcan.ca.

This content was produced by Content Works, Postmedia’s custom content studio.

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Lisa Wallace
Assistant Director, Communications
Universities Canada
[email protected]

Tagged:  Environmental sustainability

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