Integrative Wildfire Research Program

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PROJECT LEAD: Jennifer Baltzer (Laurier)
PROJECT TEAM MEMBERS: Jill Johnstone (University of Saskatchewan; Co-I)

Michelle Mack (Northern Arizona University; Co-I)

Merritt Turetsky (University of Guelph; Co-I)

Antoni Lewkowicz (University of Ottawa; Co-I)

Tyler Rhea (GNWT; collaborator)

Jakub Olesinski (GNWT; collaborator)

James Hodson (GNWT; collaborator)

Karin Clarke (GNWT; collaborator)

Fiona Schmiegelow (University of Alberta; Co-I)

Eliot McIntire (Canadian Forest Service; Co-I)

Steve Cumming (Université Laval; Co-I)

Suzanne Carrier (GNWT; Co-I)

Eric Kasischke (NASA ABoVE, collaborator)

Many GNWT staff and managers have been central and invaluable in supporting this project.

PROJECT LOCATION: Various locations on the Taiga Shield and Taiga Plains Ecozones. Communities with which we worked directly include: Wekweèti, Gamèti, Kakisa
PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

The fire season of 2014 saw 3.4 million hectares of forested lands impacted by wildfires in the Northwest Territories (NWT), which made this the largest fire season in the NWT’s history.  The fires were concentrated in the region around Great Slave Lake and thus affected the majority of NWT residents. The 2014 fire season was long and intense and the impacts of this event will have long-lasting but uncertain impacts for the communities and ecosystems of this region.

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency of these extreme fire years and as such, governments and communities must build the knowledge and capacity to adapt to these changing conditions. Presently predictions about the behavior of fires and their impacts on the affected ecosystems are based upon our understanding of more southerly boreal forests; there is thus a pressing need to improve our understanding of the response of high latitude boreal ecosystems to fire. The 2014 fires presented a unique opportunity to address important knowledge gaps across a diverse range of ecological conditions and levels of burn severity in the southern NWT.

During the summer of 2015, a diverse team of researchers came together to establish a network of permanent sampling plots in fire scars from 2014. These plots are unique in that they provide a co-located set of measures of fire severity (canopy and soil), permafrost conditions, pre-fire stand age and structure, detailed characterization of post-fire soil conditions (residual organic matter, soil carbon content and loss, bulk density, and nutrient status), and post-fire vegetation recovery, which will provide novel insights into the impacts of the 2014 fires.

We have expanded these plots to include forests of different ages allowing us to understand rates of forest recovery following fire with applications for wildlife, forest and fire managers. These sites have formed the basis of some of the NASA ABoVE ground truthing efforts in 2017.