Canadian Forest Service Publications

Climate change, carbon sequestration, and forest fire protection in the Canadian boreal zone. 2011. Stocks, B.J.; Ward, P.C. Climate Change Research Report CCRR-20. (OMNR) 35p.

Year: 2011

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 34354

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Mark record


Boreal forests and peatlands in northern circumpolar areas, including Ontario, store globally significant amounts of carbon but are subject to forest fires and other natural disturbances that cycle carbon between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. Climate change projections for the 21st century suggest that wildland fire regimes will become more severe,with more fires, more extreme weather events, and the likelihood of increased area burned. Even if fire suppression resources are increased to cope with the changing fire conditions, suppression efforts will be challenged. Forest fires release significant amounts of greenhouse gases and under a more severe fire regime increased emissions are expected. Concerns over increasing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the potential to achieve carbon offset credits through enhanced forest management practices, may lead resource management agencies to consider, as one of their options, increasing fire suppression efforts to reduce area burned and maintain carbon in storage. This policy option will be challenging in Ontario's fire-adapted forests, particularly in the Far North where most fires are not suppressed and a relatively natural fire regime is in place. Increasing fire suppression effectiveness in the boreal forest in response to a more severe fire regime will be expensive, operationally challenging, and may require trade offs between the goals of keeping carbon in storage and maintaining natural ecosystem functions. The effects of climate change on ecosystem processes and carbon storage in peatlands are not well understood, but the potential for more fire activity and resultant carbon losses, as well as irreversible ecosystem change, is high. As well, fire management strategies for peat and fuel types are not well developed. Fire management strategies in Ontario's forests and peatlands require review to balance future protection priorities, including carbon storage and fire management capabilities. Fire and forest managers will need to examine the role of fire in sustaining forest ecosystem health and resilience in a changing climate, and to better integrate forest and fire management principles, including the use of FireSmart forest management and other landscape design principles, to reduce the potential for large high intensity fires. This literature review and policy discussion is intended to provide Ontario's forest and fire managers with current scientific and policy information to inform future decision-making.