BC’s summers are becoming hotter and drier due to increasing average temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. These conditions increase the water needed for healthy crops and livestock. At the same time, hotter and drier periods result in reduced water supply. This means that farmers and ranchers are likely to need more water during periods of water scarcity. BC agriculture’s irrigation water demand is projected to increase significantly by the 2050s.

Climate and Other Factors

The frequency, extent and intensity of wildfires are increasing. As the climate changes, wildfires are becoming larger and more severe. Wildfire seasons are becoming longer. And the number of areas of the province with wildfire risk is growing. This means more farms and ranches in BC are vulnerable to wildfire impacts.

Climate changes in BC that are increasing wildfire risk:

  • Rising average annual temperatures across all seasons
  • Warmer and drier summers
  • More periods of hot and extremely hot temperatures
  • Earlier snowmelt due to warmer winter and spring temperatures

worsening factors that increase Wildfire Risk:

  • The presence of dry fuels—such as organic matter, living or dead—that can ignite and burn
  • More frequent lightening strikes
  • Dry and windy weather conditions

Other factors that increase wildfire risk in the province:

  • Forest die-off due to mountain pine beetle
  • A long history of fire suppression activities
  • Logging practices that leave fuel behind

Impacts to Agriculture

Wildfire can damage or destroy homes, structures, equipment and fencing. Livestock and crops, particularly unirrigated crops, may be lost to wildfire. The unpredictable nature of wildfire threat can also lead to substantial disruption for agricultural operations, reducing productivity. The impacts of smoke reach beyond the areas where a wildfire burns. Smoke affects the health of producers and farm workers, as well as crop quality and livestock health. Smoke cover reduces the light necessary for crops, and the potential for smoke taint is a particular concern for wine grape growers. Wildfire also has long-term impacts. Where intensive burns have happened, soil characteristics and species composition can change. Due to the loss of vegetation, wildfire can also reduce the water-holding capacity of the landscape. This can result in flooding, soil erosion and landslide risk in burned or nearby areas.

The 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons in BC demonstrated the consequences of the increasing scope and scale of wildfires. The ranching industry in Cariboo and Thompson-Nicola suffered an estimated $35-$70 million in lost capital and revenue in 2017. Physical losses included 2,000 cattle, 850 kilometers of rangeland fencing and 350 kilometers of private fencing. The devastation of these two years highlights the importance of addressing wildfire risks to agriculture.

The agriculture sector can also play a role in reducing wildfire risk through landscape management by:

  • Reducing fine fuels through targeted grazing
  • Using irrigated cropping in strategic locations, such as green-belt firebreak areas
  • Developing or enhancing emergency water storage
  • Supporting resilient systems, such as agroforestry

Wildfire Related Projects