On this Earth Day, it felt right to write about one of the most fundamental natural processes that plays out over the surface of the earth: fire.
Forest fires have been part of the natural history of the Canadian Rockies since the return of plants and forests at the end of the last big glaciation. That’s about 13,000 years of wildfire in the landscape. Despite this, people and fire have an uncomfortable relationship. Fires are as natural as sunrise and sunset, and they create some tremendous patches of habitat, favoured by everything from birds to bears to bison. But they can take a real toll on communities, and they produce a lot of smoke, so the usual response to fires is to fight them and put them out, even in national parks.
One of the best tools for bringing fires back into a landscape is prescribed fire, where people (in this case, the Parks Canada fire team) decide when and where they want to have a fire. They can light fires when the weather window is favourable, and do nature’s bidding with a guiding hand.
In 2023, Yoho National Park is in the fire spotlight. In my over 30 years of living in the Rockies, Yoho is the park that’s experienced the least fire, so it’s time. This year, Parks Canada has announced an ambitious plan to light three large prescribed fires in Yoho. They are in out of the way valleys in the western end of the park, but if the park gets the right conditions, it could make for an interesting spring and fall (the park doesn’t do prescribed burning in the summer).