For thousands of years, fires have occurred on the lands now known as Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. These fires are a product of the diverse natural and cultural history of this unique area.
Today, fire is carefully managed within the National Park Reserve. In order to prevent damaging wildfires, campfires are only permitted outside of fire bans, and within campfire rings at certain campgrounds. Campfires are prohibited in backcountry locations, including on beaches and below the high tide line. All wildfires are supressed by Parks Canada employees.
Fire is also used as a tool to help manage ecosystems. “Prescribed” fires are used to restore ecosystem health and to facilitate cultural burning by local First Nations.
Fire is a natural process, and plays a critical role in shaping natural areas in the Southern Gulf Islands region.
- Fire cycles nutrients: Fires allow important nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, to be released from vegetation and flow through ecosystems to be used by other plants and animals.
- Fire “heals” the forest: Fires remove unhealthy, diseased trees and plants, and can help limit the spread of forest pests and insects.
- Fire changes forests: Fires help create diverse and healthy landscapes. Some species of tree, like the Shore Pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta), actually need fire to help their cones open and spread their seeds. Young forests that grow back after fires are preferred by some species, providing fresh green growth and new habitats.
- Fire “cleans” the forest: If a forest has not burned or been changed in a long time, dead vegetation accumulates. When frequent small, low intensity fires burn regularly through an area, this dead fuel is removed. In turn, the risk of a dangerous wildfire occurring is minimized.
While fire can be beneficial to landscapes, out-of-control wildfires can threaten the environment, homes, property, and important cultural areas. Wildfires are dangerous, unplanned, and uncontrolled fires. When a wildfire is reported, a dedicated team responds immediately.
Firefighting equipment is strategically placed throughout the National Park Reserve. Crews use water pumps, hoses, and hand tools to suppress wildfires. In some cases, aircrafts like helicopters and water bombers can also be used to limit fire spread.
Parks Canada works with local partners, fire departments, and the British Columbia Wildfire Service to suppress wildfires.
Fires are prohibited in the National Park Reserve, including on beaches and below the high tide mark, except in designated fire pits in drive-in campgrounds (SMONECTEN (McDonald) and Prior Centennial). These regulations prevent any unattended or abandoned campfires from becoming dangerous and unexpected wildfires. Click here to learn about campfire regulations.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve may also implement fire bans at points in the year when the fire danger is high. Whenever possible, the National Park Reserve works with local municipalities and the Province of British Columbia to synchronize Fire Bans and burning regulations.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is conducting projects to lower the risk of wildfires in National Park Reserve and adjacent land.
Cultural burning practices have been used by Coast Salish Nations in the Southern Gulf Islands for thousands of years. Indigenous fire stewardship built resiliency in ecosystems, keeping sites healthy and productive. The endangered Garry oak ecosystems in the Gulf Islands region were carefully maintained by centuries of cultural burning. To learn more about the Garry oak ecosystem restoration in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, visit here.
When settlers and newcomers arrived here, they prevented First Nations from lighting these important fires. Colonial policies prohibited burning, undermining Indigenous fire sovereignty, and dramatically altered ecosystems.
Parks Canada is committed to working with local First Nations to re-establish cultural burning in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
Parks Canada uses prescribed fires to manage ecosystem health.
A “prescribed fire” is planned, intentionally ignited, and managed. This is different than a wildfire, which is unplanned and often started accidentally or by lightning, and can quickly get out of control. Prescribed fires are ignited by Parks Canada employees.
“Prescriptions” are the conditions and procedures needed to burn safely and effectively. Trained specialists decide when, where, and under what limits such fires will be permitted to burn. Factors such as weather, vegetation type, moisture levels, terrain, and expected fire behavior are taken into account when writing a prescription. Prescribed fires are conducted to meet ecological goals, such as:
- Reduce dead vegetation and recycle nutrients to enrich the soil.
- Reduce the hazardous, dead, flammable materials that could contribute to large, catastrophic wildfires.
- Promote new growth to provide habitat and food for many species of plants and animals.
Yearly monitoring is used to determine when and where a prescribed fire will help improve or maintain the health of the National Park Reserve.
Prescribed fires are not new in the Gulf Islands. Lake core sediment samples indicate purposefully lit fires by local First Nations maintained important ecosystems for thousands of years. Centuries of wildfire suppression by settlers and newcomers have changed natural spaces. Different plants and invasive species have grown in, crowding out and replacing ecosystems, such as the endangered Garry oak ecosystem.