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Canada wildfires drove global tree cover loss in 2023. By how much? – National


Canada’s record 2023 wildfire season drove nearly a quarter increase in the loss of the world’s tree cover, a new report has found.

The report, published Thursday by the World Resources Institute, found Canada’s tree cover loss hit eight million last year, up from just over two million the year prior.

“As in previous years, the global trend in tree cover loss depends largely on annual fire dynamics in boreal forests. 2023 saw a 24 per cent increase in global tree cover loss, from 22.8 million hectares in 2022 to 28.3 million hectares in 2023, which can entirely be explained by a huge increase in fire-driven tree cover loss in Canada,” the research institute said.

“In the rest of the world, tree cover loss decreased overall by four per cent.”

Click to play video: '‘It’s about being prepared’: B.C. warns of early wildfire season'

‘It’s about being prepared’: B.C. warns of early wildfire season

Roughly 18.5 million hectares of Canadian land burned in 2023, smashing the previous record of 7.6 million hectares scorched in 1989.

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Burned land aside, the wildfire season destroyed homes and caused fatalities, as well as temporarily causing some of the worst air quality in the world in parts of Canada and the United States.

While fires can be a natural part of the ecosystem in northern forests that often regrow, more intense and frequent fires can lead to permanent changes to forests, the research institute said. Smouldering fires can also persist below ground and reignite again, causing more damage.

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In fact, after the warmest winter on record, parts of Canada are seeing an early start to the wildfire season, with experts and officials warning about increased fire activity over the spring period.

Click to play video: 'Okanagan crews battle two early season wildfires amid dry conditions'

Okanagan crews battle two early season wildfires amid dry conditions

Alberta Wildfire said the province’s fire season officially kicked off on Feb. 20 – earlier than the standard start date of March 1. Officials in British Columbia have also warned of an early start to the wildfire season given drought conditions across the province.

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While it’s hard to predict what this year’s wildfire season could look like given fire behaviour is largely dependent on the weather, analysis shows that wildfire seasons in Canada are becoming longer, said Chelene Hanes, a wildland fire research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service.

“We have a lot of variability year to year, so just because we had a bad year last year doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have another one this year,” she told Global News on March 22.

However, “there is some cause for concern because there is a lot of drought that is persisting from last season and … those drought conditions did have some role to play in what we saw last year as well.”

Deforestation increased globally in 2023, report finds

World Resources Institute’s report found deforestation globally rose 3.2 per cent in 2023.

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While forest loss includes natural destruction such as wildfires, pests and windstorms of woodlands that may grow back, deforestation refers to people permanently converting woodlands to other uses such as agriculture and is harder to measure. The destruction of forests helps drive global climate change, experts say.

Click to play video: 'COP26: Canada has ‘responsibility’ to protect its forests, Trudeau says'

COP26: Canada has ‘responsibility’ to protect its forests, Trudeau says

More than 140 countries in 2021 committed to end deforestation by the end of the decade, a goal that requires huge declines in destruction each year, said Rod Taylor, forests director with the World Resources Institute.

“We are far off track and trending in the wrong direction when it comes to reducing global deforestation,” Taylor told reporters at a press briefing.

Brazil, Indonesia and Bolivia led in deforestation, followed closely by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

— with files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and Reuters

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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