Using fire to restore mountain park ecosystems

What’s the issue?

A Parks Canada interpreter high fives a young visitor at a fire exhibit in Jasper National Park.

While the thought of uncontrolled fire can be frightening, forest and grassland fires are a type of disturbance to which many natural communities are highly adapted, including those in the mountain parks. Without regular burning, fire-adapted vegetation communities change for the worse; wildlife habitats become less diverse, forests become susceptible to disease, and there’s an increased chance of catastrophic wildfire due to an accumulation of woody fuels. To reverse these negative consequences, Parks Canada uses carefully planned and controlled “prescribed” fires to burn off dense shrubs, open up forest canopies, trigger seed germination and stimulate plant regeneration. Prescribed fire is a technique that’s expertly practiced by Parks Canada to mimic natural processes and restore forest and grassland ecosystems.

What’s our approach?

  • Research historic fire cycles (frequency, area, intensity) and aim to mimic a minimum of 20 percent of those patterns across the mountain parks.
  • Coordinate the use of prescribed fire annually to restore ecosystems and maintain native biodiversity.
  • Develop interpretative programs to show Canadians the benefits and importance of fire, while raising awareness about the use of prescribed fire in ecosystem restoration.

What’s been accomplished?

  • Conducted forest thinning and protective guard burning to ensure prescribed fires are well contained, minimizing any risk to public health and safety.
  • From 2015 to 2017, ignited nine carefully planned prescribed fires in the montane forests of four national parks, restoring 135 hectares in Kootenay, 733 hectares Jasper, 1,360 hectares in Banff and 68 hectares in Mount Revelstoke.
  • In 2017, lit an additional 63 hectares of prescribed fire across complex, frontcountry areas in Banff National Park to restore ecosystems while reducing the risk of future wildfires.
  • Delivered travelling exhibits and interpretive displays – including What’s the Connection and Sparks in the Parks – that have reached more than 100,000 people.
  • Shared with Canadians engaging stories on mountain park fire management through local, regional and national media (CTV, CBC, Discovery Channel), open houses and community meetings.