Effects of 2023 Wildfires in Alberta

Dave Huggard
Brandon Allen
David Roberts
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Fires are a natural occurrence in Alberta’s forests. In boreal and montane forests, fires—along with other natural disturbances such as insect outbreaks and disease—create a mosaic of stands of different ages. This diversity in forests supports wildlife and plants that have adapted over thousands of years to these frequent disturbances.  However, 2023 was an exceptional year for wildfires in Alberta, with over 1,000 fires burning nearly 3.3 million hectares of forest across the province, including Wood Buffalo National Park where nearly 750,000 ha burned. Widespread fires forced people from their homes, destroyed property, and created smoky conditions and poor air quality across North America. Many of these fires continue to burn, even through the subsequent winter1
Extreme fire years have the capacity to dramatically affect forest biodiversity and have become more common in recent decades. While fires are a natural process, and burned forests will regenerate over time, it is also important to consider the impact of fires alongside human activities such as forestry and energy development. Fire, forest
harvesting, and other natural and human disturbances all change the ecological character of our landscapes in different ways. This report looks at the ecological changes caused by wildfires in 2023 – how they affect forests in Alberta and the habitats of species that live there.