Canada needs Indigenous-led fire management

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As a new wildfire season approaches, many Canadians are reflecting on last season’s devastating losses and thinking about what they can do to protect themselves and the places where they live.

Forest fires are becoming more severe and unpredictable, but a new paper by researchers and collaborators at the University of British Columbia (UBC) suggests a way forward. The authors reviewed fire management practices and recent wildfires in Canada and recommend the revival of cultural burning, while moving towards Indigenous-led fire management to better manage the risks of wildfire and promote healthy ecosystems.

Cultural burning versus prescribed burning

Cultural fire uses fire on the landscape to achieve certain cultural goals such as maintaining the diversity of animal life and plants that serve as medicine or food,” says co-lead author Dr. Amy Cardinal Christianson. (she she), Indigenous fire research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service.

“For example, some berries tend to fruit heavily after a fire. Cultural fires are typically small-scale, low-intensity burns that are community-directed and practiced by Indigenous fire keepers from around the world.

Although both types of burning can be defined as the planned and controlled application of fire to a specific land area, they are distinct practices, adds co-lead author Dr. Kira Hoffman. (she she)ecologist, former forest firefighter and postdoctoral research associate at UBC’s Faculty of Forestry.

“Prescribed burning often has different objectives than cultural burning which involves multiple resource management values. For example, cultural burning can be used to get rid of pests near homes, which clears brush while protecting homes from wildfires. Prescribed burning is primarily intended to reduce and manage forest fuels, maintain a certain state of the forest, or reduce the risk of forest fires. It is often applied with greater intensity, occurs at different times, and is implemented differently in the planning process.

The authors point out that vsCultural burning can achieve many goals, from reducing fire risk to enhancing biodiversity. A recent and successful example of cultural burning highlighted in their article is the Revitalizing Traditional Burning Project, a collaboration with First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, Xwísten (Bridge River) First Nation, Shackan Indian Band and Yunesit National Government. ‘in.

“This project used Indigenous-informed research methods to create burn plans that, among other things, addressed climate change issues, including wildfires and drought. However, Nations are still grappling with bureaucracy and funding needs that have limited their ability to burn,” Christianson said.

Barriers to Re-Engagement with Culture Burning

The researchers noted that a The common obstacle is that Indigenous peoples can burn on their reserves in some communities, for example, but not in the surrounding areas, as these could be designated as Crown land, which generally falls under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. .

Hoffman adds, “Perhaps the most difficult barrier for wildfire management agencies, policymakers, and the public is the general lack of understanding of what cultural burning is. Cultural burning practices are specific to the Nations and the communities to which they belong. Complex relationships exist between Indigenous peoples and fire and how this knowledge is grounded in understandings involving specific relationships between humans, plants and animals. This includes traditional governance practices and laws that have been developed, adapted and passed down from generation to generation.

A way forward

Christianson notes there are excellent examples of successful forms of cultural burning that can inform practices in a Canadian context. “In California, tribes have been involved in changing liability laws regarding cultural burns. In Australia, the Firesticks Alliance trains and certifies cultural burners. In this document, we have many calls to action that will support Indigenous-led fire management.

We need to continue these conversations about the need for Indigenous-led fire stewardship in Canada and address everything from educational certification to creating a national group of Indigenous fire marshals. In five years, we hope to see significant changes in the way we manage and live with fire in Canada,” Hoffman added.

– This press release was originally posted on the University of British Columbia website

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