My inquiry question is: How should government funding be used for the prevention of wildfires?
In my last round of research, I looked into the effects wildfires have on human lives, more specifically human health. In this round, I will be researching their effects on human lives in terms of the economy; that is, the people whose property is destroyed by wildfires as well as the money that is spent fighting and suppressing wildfires.
Across a great portion of the 400 million hectares of forest ecosystems in Canada, wildfires are a natural process. However, wildfires may endanger social interests including health, forestry operations and values of timber, residential and commercial property, as well as transportation and energy infrastructures. Therefore, there are a lot of resources spent on suppressing wildfires by resource management agencies. (1)
From 1970 to 2009, the yearly costs spent towards wildfire suppression was from $216 million (Canadian dollars) all the way to more than $1 billion, with the average amount being $537 million. The cause for the large range in wildfire suppression costs was related to differences in weather, fuel conditions, burned area, as well as other factors. (1)
Since 1970, wildland fire management expenditures in Canada have been going up by around $120 million every 10 years. (2)
If Canada wants to maintain the same level of protection from fires until 2040, it has been estimated that Canada would have to double wildland fire management expenditures (the amount of funds spent towards wildland fire management), even if the number of fires increases by 15%.
This is due to projections of climate change that predict more weather conditions that are conductive for fire, leading to more fires and more area burned per year, which would likely affect costs of fire protection. (2, 3)
With more frequent and more severe wildfires, it not only affects the cost of fire management, but it also has larger impacts on people and communities by causing evacuations, losses of homes and of businesses. (4)
Fort McMurray 2016 Wildfire
To get an idea of what kinds of losses people can suffer due to wildfires, I decided that I would look into the economic impact of a wildfire that I’m sure many of you who live in Canada heard about, the Fort McMurray wildfire.
In this wildfire, approximately 5890 km2 of land were burned, which is around the size of Prince Edward Island. They had 71,589 residents in the area and 30,713 private dwellings, and around 8% of these private dwellings were destroyed by the wildfire. (5)
In the second quarter of 2016, there was an estimated -0.4 percent impact on real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the non-conventional oil extraction industry, real GDP declined by 20% in May. (5)
The Fort McMurray wildfire was ranked the most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history for insurance providers (5), with the insured loss adding up to approximately 3.7 billion dollars. (5, 6)
But while wildfires do disrupt people’s lives including workers, employers and families, there actually are some benefits from a wildfire. The amount of employment and wages in the country may go up in some places, somewhat making up for disruptions wildfires cause for short-term losses of employment. (7)
It has been found that employment and wages usually go up when there are large wildfires, but they also tend to result in instability in the local labour markets in the long-term, due to more drastic seasonal ups and downs in employment the next year. (7)
For the rebuilding of Fort McMurray after the wildfire, the number and value of building permits increased significantly that year. From June 2016, more than 854 building permits were issued, showing the rebuilding of the affected households. (5)
Here are some diagrams to give you an idea of the number of hours lost in the Fort McMurray area vs the number of hours gained in Alberta that aren’t from the Fort McMurray area.
That’s all for this week! Next time, I will be digging deeper into the history of Canadian wildfires, researching what years were the worst and which years were the best in terms of number and sizes of wildfires in the country, and if I can, I will try to find out why certain years were worse or better than others, and how these wildfires affected our country. Any ideas, suggestions or sources are welcome. Thanks for reading!