Climate Change’s Growing Impact

Wildfire image

Who is going to clean the land now?

awina ēkwa kawī pamītat askīy?
Listen to Cree

-William Sewap (Cumberland House Cree Nation)

Since the times our ancestors used Indigenous-led fire practices, many changes have occurred on the land, changes caused by wildfire suppression, climate change and its growing impacts, contemporary forest management,[1] population growth and invasive species.

As a result, the fuel load is very high,[2] and it will be difficult to re-introduce any Indigenous-led burning practices without complex community planning and guidance from our Elders and Indigenous fire practitioners in Indigenous communities and surrounding areas.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for Indigenous groups and communities to be proactive by planning and preparing for climate change and its growing impacts.

This proactive preparation includes using fire for community protection, ecosystem stewardship, habitat restoration, climate change adaptation planning and regenerative land management.

Indigenous-led fire stewardship can safeguard the effects of extreme weather and produce a variety of habitats that support biodiversity.[3]

Checklist: Assessing the Growing Impact of Climate Change

As your group or community considers or plans to return, continue, expand or support Indigenous-led uses of fire on the land, here is a list of possible information sources to assist you in assessing the growing impact of climate change to a specific site, with examples relevant for the Saskatchewan River Delta following most sources:

checkboxnational and regional assessment reports (Canada’s Changing Climate Report – Executive Summary, Climate Atlas of Canada, Climate Change Knowledge Portal, Natural Resources Canada: The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report; Saskatchewan State of the Environment 2019: A Focus on Forests Report)

checkboxfederal agencies (Indigenous Services Canada, Natural Resources Canada/Canadian Forest Service)

checkboxprovincial/territorial environment ministries (Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment; Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment Climate Change Branch – Annual reporting for Climate Change Resilience Framework)

checkboxprovincial/territorial forestry and natural resource management ministries (Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources)

checkboxprovincial public safety, fire safety and emergency management ministries (Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency)

checkboxpost-secondary institutions (University of Saskatchewan – School of Environment and Sustainability)

checkboxnearby Indigenous communities and Tribal Councils (Cumberland House Cree Nation, Prince Albert Grand Council)

checkboxnearby local municipal and regional governments (Northern Village of Cumberland House)

checkboxyour group or community’s monitoring records

checkboxlocal Elders and Indigenous fire practitioners—their observations of changes that have been occurring over time; Indigenous Ecological Knowledge.

After gathering information sources to assist you in assessing the growing impact of climate change to a specific site, such as the Saskatchewan River Delta, or multiple sites, consider the following:

  • frequency of fires (or number of fire incidences);
  • severity of fires;
  • risk levels of uses of fire on the land—for example, low, medium or high; and

For example, areas where Indigenous-led uses of fire on the land have a beneficial role on the landscape while not putting people at risk will likely be considered a low suppression priority, whereas an area near a community with volatile fuels due to years of fire exclusion will be considered high priority due to risk.

As you consider or plan to engage in an Indigenous-led fire prescription, you can document climate change’s growing impact risks and habitat loss for your site.

After you identify potential effects of climate change and assess the vulnerabilities and risks, you will identify areas that are a high priority for returning, continuing or expanding uses of fire on the land to your site.

Climate change information will inform your engagement in Indigenous-led fire prescriptions.

Climate change information will help you maximize benefits and strengths of uses of fire on the land while minimizing vulnerabilities and risks.

[1]Timber industry prescribes planting to yield a 2-3 species mix and replicate the species composition of the pre-existing stand.

[2]Erni, S., Johnston, L., Boulanger, Y., Manka, F., Bernier, P., Eddy, B., Christianson, A. C., Swystun, T., & Gauthier, S. (2021). Exposure of the Canadian wildland–human interface and population to wildland fire, under current and future climate conditions. Can J For Res. 51(9). 1357–1367.

[3]Mistry, J., Bilbao, B. A., & Berardi, A. (2016). Community owned solutions for fire management in tropical ecosystems: Case studies from Indigenous communities of South America. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 371. 20150174.