Many of the ecosystems within national parks are fire adapted. In these ecosystems, fire helps maintain forest health and biodiversity. Parks Canada uses carefully planned prescribed fire to safely restore and maintain this important ecological process.
Prescribed fires do important work that pays dividends for decades. For example, they help maintain good habitat for many large mammals, particularly elk, moose, sheep, deer, wolves and bears. Prescribed fire also helps control populations of insects such as mountain pine beetle and reduces the threat of wildfire to communities and neighbouring lands.
A prescribed fire is an intentional fire planned and managed by fire specialists. A “prescription” describes the conditions and procedures necessary to burn safely and effectively.
Parks Canada’s fire specialists take into account weather, type of vegetation, moisture levels, terrain, anticipated fire behavior and more when writing a prescription.
They define the boundary of the fire using natural barriers, such as cliffs and wetlands, combined with other features, such as roads and constructed fuel breaks made by people. Finally, the team outlines the conditions under which the prescription can be used. When these conditions are met, the team is ready for action.
In April 2015, a 1,200-hectare burn unit was ignited in Waterton Lakes National Park. The purpose of this prescribed fire was to restore native prairie by reducing aspen and evergreen tree expansion onto grasslands.
In the spring of 2006, Parks Canada ignited Waterton Lakes National Park's largest prescribed fire to date on 1,600 hectares of prairie between the Red Rock and Entrance Parkways and Bellevue Ridge.