Our Future with Forest Fires: A Climate Action Symposium

As our climate changes and forest fires increase in number and intensity what does our future with Forest Fires look like in the Sea-to-Sky Region?

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and the Sea to Sky Clean Air Society, two local charities with environmental and climate oriented mandates, hosted a Climate Action Symposium in Whistler on June 23rd from 12:30 to 5:30 at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

The symposium featured a series of short talks exploring wildfire mitigation and adaptation opportunities, followed by an inquiry based Apres in Action. Participants learned about forest health and ecology, including traditional and modern use of burning as a wildfire management tool; wildfire smoke impacts and action planning for smoke events; FireSmart prescriptions for residential and commercial property owners; and impacts of wildfire on tourism, recreation and development.

Participants walked away with a deeper understanding of what a future with many more wildfires will entail.

Climate science predicts hotter, drier summers, which means an increase in the number and severity of wildfires across Canada (source). According to the BC Wildfire Service nearly three times as many hectares burned in 2015 as the 10-year average (source).

The last couple of months have been the hottest on record, with records broken in Squamish and Whistler, which means we could be in for another summer of bad wildfires. “May’s early hot streak comes on the heels of the warmest April on record in Vancouver, where the average monthly temperature was 11.9, up from the 9.4 typically recorded for April” (source).

The 2016 Fort McMurray fire, which resulted in the evacuation of 90,000 residents, and loss of about 1600 buildings, is a tragic example of the devastation a wildfire can quickly wreak on a community. It is imperative that communities plan for such events to minimize losses of life and property.

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and the Sea to Sky Clean Air Society will be hosting a Climate Action Symposium.


Bruce Blackwell – M.Sc., RPF, R.P.Bio. –  Principal, BA Blackwell & Associates

Bruce has more than 28 year’s experience as a Professional Forester and Biologist primarily focused in fire and forest ecology, silviculture, vegetation management, wildland/urban interface planning, forest policy and practice audits and reviews. His talk will examine the historical to present day role of wildfire on forest health/ecology including the protection of communities in the region and the application of prescribed fire in this context.

Dr. Sarah Henderson – BASc, PhD – Assistant Professor, UBC

Dr. Henderson will share insights into health impacts related to forest fire smoke, which she has been studying since 2003. She leads an internationally recognized program of research and surveillance around forest fire smoke at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Geoff Playfair – Fire Chief, Whistler Fire Rescue Services

Chief Playfair has been with Whistler Fire Rescue Services for over 30 years and was appointed Chief in 2015. He will be speaking about FireSmart and opportunities for mitigating wildfire threats around homes, property and neighbourhoods.

Scott Shaw-MacLaren – Resource Manager Sea to Sky Natural Resource District Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations 

Scott has years of experience reviewing resource development and tourism projects, species recovery and monitoring activities, and other resource management ventures. His talk will explore opportunities for adapting to the new wildfire reality, examining regional wildfire impacts on key values like tourism, recreation, and development.

The project aims to empower community members to participate in, and act upon, goals for conscious consumption in the urgent context of unsustainable resource use and climate change. We hope to achieve this by ensuring

  • Community members gain knowledge about climate change mitigation and adaptation measures at personal, community, regional and global scales.
  • Community members engage in development of climate solutions and promote positive community scale climate action.
  • Community members experience a sense of contribution to the event, the pursuit of climate actions and the community.
  • Specialist knowledge shared with community members is relevant and pertinent.

This event was made possible thanks to funding from the Community Foundation of Whistler’s Environmental Legacy Fund and the additional support of the BC Lung Association.