UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Can Air Quality Management Drive Sustainable Fuels Management at the Temperate Wildland–Urban Interface? Bowman, David M. J. S.; Daniels, Lori D.; Johnston, Fay H.; Williamson, Grant J.; Jolly, W. Matt; Magzamen, Sheryl; Rappold, Ana G.; Brauer, Michael; Henderson, Sarah B.


Sustainable fire management has eluded all industrial societies. Given the growing number and magnitude of wildfire events, prescribed fire is being increasingly promoted as the key to reducing wildfire risk. However, smoke from prescribed fires can adversely affect public health. We propose that the application of air quality standards can lead to the development and adoption of sustainable fire management approaches that lower the risk of economically and ecologically damaging wildfires while improving air quality and reducing climate-forcing emissions. For example, green fire breaks at the wildland–urban interface (WUI) can resist the spread of wildfires into urban areas. These could be created through mechanical thinning of trees, and then maintained by targeted prescribed fire to create biodiverse and aesthetically pleasing landscapes. The harvested woody debris could be used for pellets and other forms of bioenergy in residential space heating and electricity generation. Collectively, such an approach would reduce the negative health impacts of smoke pollution from wildfires, prescribed fires, and combustion of wood for domestic heating. We illustrate such possibilities by comparing current and potential fire management approaches in the temperate and environmentally similar landscapes of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada and the island state of Tasmania in Australia.

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