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North American Blueprint for Wildland Fire Science Collaboration

Author(s): Diego Pérez Salicrup, Stacy Sankey, William Matt Jolly, Jonathan Boucher, Eric Toman, Christy Arseneau, Michael Norton
Year Published: 2020

We need a comprehensive strategy to improve collaboration and capacity for wildland fire science in North America. Every year, wildfires burn across large areas of Continental North America. These fires recognize no political boundaries; some cross borders directly and require collaboration between countries for their suppression while resulting fire effects have social, economic and ecological consequences that are felt far from the location of individual wildfires. For example, smoke from California wildfires burning in September 2020 impacted air quality in Eastern Canada and Eastern United States. Despite the international distribution of biomes, sharing fire science across boundaries has proven difficult. (Figure 1).

The majority of land area in continental North America comprises three countries that offer contrasting fire management strategies and fire management histories. While Canada and the United States have comparable land areas, they have vastly different population densities: the United States has nearly 10 times more people per sq kilometer than Canada (Table 1). Population distribution is also different, with most Canadians living along their southern border, while the population in the US is more evenly distributed.

Not surprisingly, 50% of Canadian wildfires are ignited by lightning1 while humans account for about 84% of all wildfire ignitions in the United States2 . While forest areas in both countries are also comparable, forest land tenure is contrasting, with more forest area in private hands in the US. Mexico is much smaller, with almost one fifth of the area of its northern neighbours, but with almost twice the population density than the US (Table 1). Similarly, ignitions in Mexico are 90% associated with human activity. Forested areas in Mexico are also roughly one fifth of that of Canada and the US, yet because of Mexico’s proximity to the equator, it has a much higher diversity of species and ecosystems. Most forest land in Mexico is in the hands of rural communities who also exercise a communal (named ejidos) approach to forest management, which has a large influence on how forests and fires are managed.

With all these diverse conditions and with increasing occurrence of large, severe wildfires, it is time to reflect on the experiences gained from the three countries and to assess common knowledge gaps in order to apply lessons learned to address emerging needs of contemporary fire management. The number of publications on fire research coming from North American countries is significant (Figure 2), but it is not diverse. Nor is the traditional approach of pursuing theoretical research questions and publishing findings in scientific journals sufficient. There is an increasingly urgent need to adapt, or even transform, fire management in North America and scientific publication is not enough to get the knowledge into the hands of wildland fire practitioners.

Ultimately, a different approach is needed, where research is aligned with current and future needs and results are actively and deliberately shared in a manner that supports decision making. We propose developing a Blueprint for collaboration across borders to accomplish this.

Citation: Salicrup DP, Sankey S, Jolly WM, Boucher J, Toman E, Arseneau C, and Norton M. 2020. North American Blueprint for Wildland Fire Science Collaboration. Wildfire Magazine, November 2020, online.
Topic(s): Fire Communication & Education, Fire Policy & Law
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22273
Record updated: Dec 8, 2020