Wildland fire management strategy

“A strategic shift is needed to proactively manage the benefits and risks of wildland fire to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of society.”
BC Wildland Fire Management

Wildland fires are fires that burn over forests and rangelands and are part of BC’s natural landscape. Burning is a natural phenomenon that allows management of forests and ranges and is why BC’s landscape is healthy and diverse; the forest and rangelands prior to 1800 were naturally managed. Fires would occur usually due to lighting but First Nations would traditionally use wildland fires as a tool for forest stewardship.

However, times have changed and so has the climate. Therefore, fire management has to start changing and adapt to those new times, to be innovative and creative. This is what BC has decided to do and it is now playing a lead role in the Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy. In the BC’s Wildland Fire there are directions for provincial governments regarding fire management which will help the natural process of fire in nature and improve the Province’s ability to continue to provide a world-class level of wildfire response when unwanted fire occurs.

With BC’s Wildland Fire Management Strategy implementations the forest and range ecosystem will be much healthier thus putting communities and private properties less at risk from fire and smoke. The economical level is also important when considering the wildfire aspect as responses to fire are expensive for the government and preventing non-natural fires will help communities and governments to save. The main focuses for this report are risk and fire hazard reduction, especially when near towns and communities and to use fire when it is beneficial and controlled and the risks can be cost-effectively managed. It is also important to monitor and manage fires instead of suppressing them for good as it has been shown by nature that small fires can be of use when managing the environment. Implementing plans for land, natural resource and communities will include wildland fire management at different levels and scales. Finally, the last focus is to create a high level of public awareness to understand and support the wildland fire management process .

As much as fire is a valuable tool for the environment, when out of control it has a high level of undesirable social and economical impact as was seen during the 2003 and 2009 fire seasons.


Fire has been part of the natural process to regulate the environment and historically around 500,000 hectares would burn each year but as time passed and times evolved so has the fire-suppression techniques which has had an impact on the area declining to one-tenth of the historical average.

Periodic fires, under natural conditions, provide a decrease of buildup of flammable fuels, can create a mosaic of young-to-old forest and range conditions and habitat, as well as replace older forest stands that could be potentially affected by insects and diseases. Finally, it will help limit the probability of large fires by creating natural fuel breaks. Therefore, when fires are suppressed there is a build up being created in the reduction of the health and vigour of the forest as well as aging and building up fuels to unnatural levels which will increase the risk of having a catastrophic wildfire that will be very difficult to control and will have highly destructive impacts on communities and resources.

Fires can also impact on the economy as for example during the 2003 fire the approximate cost to suppress it, the damaged done on timber, forest productivity and infrastructures and homes was of $500 million. Indirectly central Okanagan lost $80 million alone. In 2009 it went over $400 million for suppressing the fires and this was due to over a decade of build-up in fuels and dry and hot weather.

This is why there is an urge to develop a wildland fire management plan, so that the Province can ease the impact which combines the effects of fuel buildup and climate change that exceed the capacity to suppress unwanted fire.

Moreover, fuel build-up is not the only issue that occurs with wildfires but climate change is also an add up effect that can cause wildfires. Research has shown that the incidence and severity of wildfires will increase over the next several decades. As by 2050 the average winter temperatures in BC will increase by 2-3C in the south and by 4-5C in the north. Carbon dioxide, identified as the main gas responsible for climate change, also released by fires is, unlike the carbon emitted from the fossil fuels combustions, balanced by the growth of post-fire vegetation taking in and storing carbon over subsequent decades.

The suppression of wildfires in some areas where historically it would occur has led to a change in the ecosystem if the dominant species composition such as ponderosa pine changes to Douglas-fir, as well as increasing tree density and ladder fuels that not only increase the risk of an uncontrolled fire but also the health of the forest with increases in insects and pathogens and decreases in the forest’s resilience.

There is a high public concern for wildfire forest management since many of the current wildland fire policies and programs were brought into place. The public does not understand the full process and importance of the use of fires and think of it as dangerous and harmful for them and the environment. Many have little knowledge of forest and range ecosystems and their management.


When it comes to wildfires and their management there is not one but several agencies that have the responsibility to manage forest and range land across the province. However, the Ministry of Forest and Range is the lead agency in BC for the Wildland Fire Management Strategy program.

In order to have a good management program that concerns fires there must be a balance in its investment in threat reduction actions and its response activities. The threat reduction action includes forest planning, fuel management and fire prevention, whereas, response actions include pre-fire preparation of fire suppression equipment and personnel, detection, initial attack, suppression and post-fire rehabilitation. This will allow the program to be both efficient and effective as well as have a positive impact on the economy.

Still, there are many challenges and limits action to the program, such as the separation between land-use decision making and fire management.

The Wildfire Management Branch Mission is used for guidelines for the Wildland Fire Management Strategy (WFMS) which includes human safety, helping with emergency responses to wildfire, forests , grasslands and natural resource conservation, and using innovative and effective fire management.

The first goal is reducing hazards and risks that come with wildland fire in and around communities as well as other high-value areas. For this goal the priorities are to accelerate the completion of Community Wildfire Protection Plan decreasing the fuel loading on wildland-urban interface areas, and using alternative disposal methods when it is possible. There is a high concern to ensure that the standards for industrial operations properly follow wildland fire management which include fuel management in areas where activities have or will increase fuel loading, and developing risk and analysis tools, guidelines, best management practices and standards for infrastructure (private and public) buildings in forest and range interface areas to continue to help the FireSmart Program.

The second goal is to plan and apply the use of controlled burning in the proper ecosystem and within suitable conditions as to reduce hazards and risks and achieve healthy forests and grasslands. The strategies that will be used and priorities for this goal are the increased use of controlled burns when in accordance with the appropriate plans, First Nations interests, air quality objectives and safety requirements. This is to allow a decrease of fuel build-up, restore natural plant communities and habitat, and keep a healthy ecosystem. Moreover, there is a need to continue or reinstate the use of fire and alternative slash disposal methods when under the right conditions to be consistent with the Air Action Plan and Bioenergy Strategy.

The third goal will focus on monitoring wildfires in areas where there is a minimal risk to identify values and act when necessary to reduce hazards and risks and also make sure that fire-suppression budget and personnel are at their highest. The strategies used for this goal are the development and application of improved scientifically-based fire analysis models and fire response policies, to include a proper fire protection and evaluation measures. Finally, applying scientifically sound fire and smoke monitoring techniques during and after burning to analyse and inform on fire behaviour and impact of burning will update suppression strategies.

The fourth goal centers itself around the secure adequacy that plans include the management of wildland fire at all levels as to reduce hazards and risks and keep a healthy forests and grasslands and ensure resource-efficient fire suppression. The strategies recognised for this goal are to understand and acknowledge that fire is a natural process on forest and range lands and include analysis of fire management scenarios and options into Crown forest and range land use plans at strategic and landscape levels. Moreover, encouraging local governments and First Nations to prepare,improve and apply Community Wildland  Protection Plans and Fuel Management Plans is essential to improve in the fire management process. There should also be a safety guarantee for structures built on forest and rangeland areas and that they can be protected through fire-resistant engineering and construction techniques. Therefore, a reduction of fuel hazards in the surrounding areas should be implemented. The improvement and development of policies, expertise, capacity and standards to allow scientifically-based wildland fire management strategies to be used at any scale of the planning process will be considered for this goal.

The last goal is based on the high level development of public awareness and understanding of wildland fire and its management as to build up support for practice and resource-efficient wildland  fire and fuels management. These goals will be using and providing knowledge to the public to allow a better understanding of the Province’s shift in management of wildland fire. It is also important to collaborate with local stakeholders during the planning and policy development to increase the awareness and gain support to incorporate wildland fire management into land-use plans and objectives. And finally it is important to work and cooperate with local communities, public health, tourism and other third party agencies when modified-response fires or controlled burns are underway.


Fires are a natural management process but there are a lot of challenges and limitation as to the development of the Wildland Fire Management Strategy program that comes from the lack of public awareness and concern. The implementation of the strategy program will take time to achieve. It is starting to rise in priority concern as there is a lot of fuel build-up in different forest and range lands of the Province that could start  fires that will be difficult to control. Fires do not only have an ecological impact but also an economical and social impact to the local and provincial communities.

  • Source British of Columbia. September 2010. Achieving Global Excellence in Fire Management : Wildland fire management strategy. Available at : https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/wildfire-status/governance/bcws_wildland_fire_mngmt_strategy.pdf [Accessed 03/2021].