Parks Canada’s firefighting funds nearly depleted after record number of wildfires in 2015

Forest fires

Wildfires are becoming increasingly common across the country, but Parks Canada doesn’t have the money to keep up with them.

According to the The Canadian Press, wildfires ripped through a record amount of park land last year, and climate scientists are predicting that trend will only continue in years to come.

“We had a very busy fire year,” Jeff Weir, Parks Canada’s director of fire management, told The Canadian Press. “We had more wildfires than normal and those fires burned larger areas than normal,” he said.

Last year’s long, hot summer resulted in dry forests filled with trees that acted like giant kindling when they were struck by lightning.

These easy-to-ignite forests were home to 122 wildfires in 2015, up 33 percent from the yearly average of 82.

Most of 2015’s damage occurred in Wood Buffalo National Park, which is located in both Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and is Canada’s largest national park. The fire swept through 3,700 kilometres of Wood Buffalo, straddling the boundary between the province and territory.

In total, last year’s fires destroyed 4,600 kilometres of park land, which is equal to seven times the size of Toronto.

Parks Canada reserves about $8 million per year to fight wildfires like these. Unspent money from slow seasons has previously been saved for busier ones, but they haven’t seen a slow season in years and have nearly depleted the reserve. Last year they spent almost double the annual budget, using $14 million of funding on firefighting.

With little to no reserve left for 2016, Weir says that if they exceed the $8 million they’re allocated for the year, they may have to pull from other funding sources within Parks Canada to cover costs. That may involve digging into funds earmarked for other ecological restoration projects, but as Weir points out, they don’t have many other options: “It’s not a job we can walk away from,” he says.