Key Functions
  • Maintains a Provincial Range Reference Area program.
  • Determines plant community composition and productivity on Crown rangelands.
  • Provides advice to districts on plant community response to grazing and other disturbance.
 

Ecology

Rangelands and Fire

Fire has been a central factor in shaping British Columbia's rangelands. The inclusion or suppression of fire as a disturbance factor on the landscape has and continues to influence both individual plant species and plant community dynamics.

While fire is a topic that elicits fear in many people, it is useful to recognize that many rangeland types are adapted to survive and even thrive with periodic fire. The fire return interval that is 'normal' varies from plant community to plant community - and must be considered when assessing pre- and post- fire conditions on BC rangelands.

Fire on the landscape

Potential Benefits of Fire on Rangelands

Fire represents a potential mechanism for plant and ecosystem renewal. Some of the benefits of properly prescribed fire include:

  • Reduction of the litter layer, which in turn reduces a rangeland's risk of succumbing to catastrophic wildfire.
  • Proactive use of fire can reduce the risk to life, limb and infrastructure.
  • Fire can increase habitat heterogeneity (patch dynamics).
  • Fire can increase light infiltration and capture by reducing both over-story and litter layers.
  • Fire can promote plant health and understory development, which has value for wildlife and livestock.
  • Fire can improve access to forage for both wildlife and livestock.

Savory Ridge Prescribed Fire

Potential Consequences of Fire on Rangelands

On the other hand, it is important to recognize that fire can be risky if it is ill-timed, occurs too frequently or not often enough. As well, fire coupled with poor grazing management practices can elicit negative consequences. Undesirable consequences of fire include:

  • Increased stress on forage plants.
  • Reduced vigour (health) and increased plant mortality.
  • Increase in weedy species.
  • Increase in soil exposure and soil movement (ie., sloughing, terracing).

While fire is a useful potential management tool for BC rangelands, it is critical to recognize that individual species vary in their response to fire. Species response to fire can be mitigated by the application of active management. For example, grazing too soon after a fire can be disastrous for many species, since they are especially vulnerable at this point in time.

Ecosystem Restoration (ER) Initiative

The Ecosystem Restoration (ER) program undertook an province-wide initiative in 2006 to mitigate some of the adverse effects of the absence of fire on Crown rangeland. Controlled burns are an important component.

Further Reading

Wikeem, B.M., and R.M. Strang. 1983. Prescribed Burning on BC Rangelands: State of the Art. Journal of Range Management 36:3-8.

Daigle, P. 1996. Fire in the Dry Interior Forests of British Columbia. Extension Note 08. BC Ministry of Forests, Research Branch, Victoria.

Klenner, W., R. Walton, A. Arsenault, and L. Kremsater. 2008. Dry Forests in the Southern Interior of BC: Historic Disturbances and Implications for Restoration and Management. Forest Ecology and Management 256: 1711-1722.