Canadian Forest Service Publications

Long-term decreasing trend in forest fires in northwestern Canada. 2011. Wallenius, T.H.; Pennanen, J.; Burton, P.J. Ecosphere 2(5): art53.

Year: 2011

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 32617

Language: English

Availability: Not available through the CFS (click for more information).

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1890/ES11-00055.1

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The annual area of forest burned has decreased in recent centuries over large areas of Fennoscandia, Siberia and temperate North America. To determine if this same trend extends to a sparsely populated region of northern Canada, fire scars on living and dead trees, forest stand ages and charred wood were systematically sampled in 85 study plots in an area of 564 000 km2 in northwestern Canada. A significant negative trend in the occurrence of forest fires was observed: average area burned per year decreased from 2.0% in the first half of the 19th century to 0.33% in the later half of the 20th century. Annually burned areas correlated significantly with a local tree ring based index, July monthly drought code and the Pacific decadal oscillation but not with June-August mean temperature, distance to the nearest road, or the year of road building. None of the climatic indicators or access history (indicative of the start of local fire suppression) could explain the long-term negative trend in fires. Earlier interpretations that humans dominated the causes of forest fires in the past, even in sparsely populated regions, deserve further attention as a possible explanation for the decreasing trend in fires.