Fire and climate change

Banff National Park

Parks Canada is working to protect the mountain national parks and create healthier landscapes that are more resilient to climate change. One of the ways Parks Canada does this in Banff National Park is through our fire management program.

As our climate changes, fire seasons are predicted to become longer, larger, and burn more severely. Drought is expected to increase resulting in dry, flammable conditions across much of the country. By reintroducing fire to Banff through prescribed fire and wildfire management, we can create more diverse landscapes, and improve ecosystem resilience. A resilient Banff National Park means that the forests and ecosystems within can recover and persist even with the predicted impacts of climate change.

Reintroducing Fire?

Prior to European settlement, fires in Banff National Park were lit by both lightning and by Indigenous Peoples for to maintain travel routes, and important plant and wildlife species. With the creation of the national park in 1885, fire was suppressed for almost a century, until 1983. This has resulted in a build-up of dense, flammable vegetation across much of the park. The dense forests blanketing our valley bottoms increase the potential for larger and more intense wildfires. To address this, Parks Canada began reintroducing fire to the landscape in 1983 through the safe use of prescribed fire and wildfire.

Creating resilient landscapes

Diversity is key! From meadows to Douglas fir stands, diverse habitat patches provide room for critters big and small. Diverse forests are also more able to withstand the negative impacts of climate change, such as drought, loss of habitat, and severe wildfires. By reintroducing fire to Banff through prescribed fire and wildfire management, we can create healthy, more resilient landscapes.

  • Fire reduces the buildup of dense trees, like lodgepole pine and spruce, opening up the forest and creating better growing conditions for buffalo berries, a critical food source for grizzly bears.
  • Prescribed fire helps to maintain and restore native meadows and grasslands, creating better growing conditions for drought and fire tolerant species like Douglas fir and aspen.
  • A mosaic of habitat types can limit the size of fires. While wildfires are difficult to suppress in dense pine stands, patches of open meadows and grasslands decrease the fire’s intensity and represent areas where fires can be extinguished by rain or managers more easily. Previously burned areas will also have less fuels available on the forest floor, further reducing the spread and growth of wildfire.
  • A mosaic of habitat patches means more useable space for everyone, from pine martens to grizzly bears and everything in between.

Protecting communities

Parks Canada is committed to protecting communities in Banff National Park as fire seasons get longer and conditions become drier.

In addition to prescribed fire and managed wildfires, Parks Canada actively works with the local communities, like the Town of Banff, to reduce fuels in and around the town site through FireSmart. By removing branches, logs, and dense shrubs close to communities, and spacing out trees in the nearby forest, we can better protect the town in the event of a wildfire.

Additionally, fire breaks, such as the one on the west side of Sulphur Mountain, help to protect the town in the event of a wildfire. By removing large patches of forest and creating open meadows, approaching wildfires are slowed, giving firefighters more time and ability to protect the community.

While climate change is here; we are ready.

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