Canada is in the midst of its wildfire season. Recent reports have counted up to 413 active wildfires. In the past few days, the resulting smoke has made its way across the U.S. eastern seaboard blanketing impacted areas in a thick, smoky haze. Breathless headlines have been quick to blame climate change. Canadian and U.S. officials have encouraged impacted citizens to don masks and stay inside. Some schools have even canceled “academic, athletics and extracurricular events.” But as the rhetoric and blame heat up, it’s worth digging in on the facts to determine: Are the Canadian forest fires evidence of an intensifying climate crisis? 

“… it is certainly getting worse. It is yet another alarming example of the ways in which the climate crisis is disturbing our lives and our communities.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

Mostly false or misleading. Significant errors or omissions. Mostly make believe.

Canada’s current wildfires are neither unprecedented nor a result of an intensifying version of natural climate change. Fires are actually an integral part of this particular region and its regenerative process. 

The fires are occurring in Canada’s boreal forest which covers almost 60% of the country. According to Natural Resources Canada, the boreal forest is a “disturbance-driven forest” meaning it depends on fire, insects, and other natural disturbances to remain healthy. Fires in the region occur in the spring after long, cold winters have left dead trees, plants, and underbrush that quickly dries out before the spring rains bring new, fire-resistant growth.

This year is on track to have a higher number of fires, but comparisons to last year may be skewed as the Canadian National Fire Database reveals that 2022 produced an unusually low number of fires. A longer-term analysis of the CNFD information shows a continuing decline in the number of fires. 

The fires are not indicative of a growing climate crisis and the fearmongering by top U.S. officials is unwarranted. As IWF Senior Fellow Gabriella Hoffman has found more broadly, the prevalence of live fuel—dead trees, plants, and underbrush—is the leading cause of wildfires, not climate change. The solution is not reinstating a climate-themed version of covid lockdowns nor blaming energy resources that fuel our modern way of life. It’s encouraging proactive forest management and fire safety education. 

The resulting smoke, however, does create tangible problems. It degrades air quality and creates a host of serious logistical challenges. Accordingly, monitoring local air quality information as well as travel patterns are prudent actions. 

To learn more about wildfires in the U.S. and the need for proactive forest management, click here.