Derek Nighbor on Canada’s wildfires

On this week’s episode of Free Lunch by The Peak, we sat down with Derek Nighbor to discuss why Canada’s wildfire season took such a dark turn this year, and how governments can prepare for next year. 

What stands out to you about this wildfire season?  

“These fires are not just where forestry is happening, but in both managed and unmanaged forests and even near urban communities. Normally, provinces can buddy up and help each other, but this time everybody was in crisis almost simultaneously. A second piece is that we’re also getting very, very concerned with how old, dense, and dry our boreal forests are becoming. Without proactive management, we're going to have more fires in those areas.”

How do governments prioritize what fires to fight?

“There are calculations that provincial governments and emergency responders need to make in terms of triaging and prioritizing where we will put resources. They consider things like where people live and where there’s critical infrastructure. It’s a tough decision and there’s been a lot of criticism, but it speaks to the resource challenge. Right now, we've got about 5,500 wildland firefighters in Canada, which some people say is about 2,500 short.”

How will governments prepare for next year? 

“We've been giving them space to do what they need to do, which is to continue working with international partners to get the situation under control. But more talking and no action is no longer an option, and we expect to see a very, very clear plan from all governments this fall. We need to be thinking about more proactive measures, like the US: Prescribed burns, fire breaks, active management, and mapping to assess where the next big fire can happen.” 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full conversation here.