Jasper National Park of Canada is burning for conservation

Through a unique approach to community protection, Jasper National Park of Canada conserves its biodiversity and improves fire safety

Forest fires have shaped the landscape of Jasper National Park for centuries, maintaining a healthy mixture of young and old forests, shrublands and open meadows, and providing habitat for an abundance of wildlife. However, since the 1930s, effective fire suppression has created an unnaturally old forest with reduced biodiversity and, ironically, increased the risk of a large, catastrophic fire. Artificially old forests produced by decades of fire suppression are not unique to Jasper. Such landscapes dot North America, raising questions about how best to allow fires in order to improve biodiversity without risking communities and facilities inside and outside the park.

Jasper is working to resolve this issue through its partnership in the Foothills Model Forest, a regional partnership that includes 2.75 million hectares. The fire management initiative is called FireSmart–ForestWise. This program aims not only to reduce the threat of wildfire to residential and commercial developments within the park (FireSmart), but also to improve ecological integrity by restoring a more natural balance to the forest (ForestWise).

The community of Jasper has rallied behind the project, starting in 2002-2003, with neighbourhood "work bees." Residents thinned small demonstration sites, removing trees and other vegetation that clogged the forest floor. In the winter of 2003-2004, light-impact logging equipment was used to thin larger areas, further protecting residential areas.

Raging forest fire
Raging forest fire
© Parks Canada / D. Smith

FireSmart–ForestWise is well on its way to achieving its ultimate goal: creating a thinned forest fringe surrounding the town of Jasper and the Lake Edith cottage subdivision. This thinned forest will help protect the town from wildfires and will allow using prescribed fires to return the forest to more natural stands. A partnership made these results possible, and a partnership will benefit from them as well. The knowledge gained through FireSmart–ForestWise will advance ecological integrity and fire safety not only in the Foothills Model Forest, but also in forest communities across Canada.

Results


  • FireSmart–ForestWise techniques, perfected through community "work bees" and careful experiments, now protect people, communities and infrastructure from severe wildfires in Jasper National Park.
     
  • In 2003-2004, 115 hectares of forest were thinned using specialized logging equipment. Over three years, 350 hectares will be treated.
     
  • A partnership co-funded by Jasper National Park and the Métis Nation of Alberta enabled workers to receive training, knowledge and skills to aid in career development while performing valuable work for the project.
Pyramid lake with mountains in background
Pyramid lake with mountains in background
© Parks Canada / P. Potter / 1982