Fire in managed forests of eastern Canada: Risks and options.
Martin-Philippe Girardin, Adam Ali, Christopher Carcaillet, Sylvie Gauthier, Christelle Hely-Alleaume, Héloïse Le Goff, Aurélie Terrier, Yves Bergeron.
In this era of climate change, understanding past and predicting future fire activity are scientific challenges that are central to the development of sustainable forest management practices and policies. Such objectives, however, are difficult to achieve for several reasons. Uncertainties about future fire activity can be superimposed on the short time period covered by existing meteorological data and fire statistics, from which a historical range of variability can be determined. Regional fire activity is also tremendously variable over time, such that contemporary fire records cannot provide information on the full range of fire activity variability a given forest experienced and adapted to. This factor is increasingly important when it comes to determining the resilience of boreal forests to changes in climate and disturbance regimes. In this paper, we present a synthesis of past, present and future trends in seasonal fire danger and fire activity based on data gathered in eastern Canadian boreal forests over the last 20 years, and we provide a critical assessment of the ability to conduct sustainable forest management over the 21st century. The data synthesis provides compelling evidence of a synchronous pattern of decreasing fire-conducive climatic conditions and activity of large fire seasons over the last 2000 years in the eastern coniferous boreal forest. Model simulations suggest that the climate will become drier in upcoming decades, driving future fire activity close to the upper bound of the pre-industrial range of variability. The effects of increasing fire incidence cumulated with forest harvesting may thus pose a risk to forest resilience in the future. This ecological knowledge should help us to define forest management strategies and practices considering future fire activity changes forecasted under climate change. Development of alternative silvicultural interventions that would emulate secondary disturbances (e.g. wind, insects) rather than fire would be necessary to maintain pre-industrial forest characteristics (e.g. composition and age class distribution), and associated forest resilience.