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