Short- and Long-term Wildfire Threat When Adapting Infrastructure for Wildlife Conservation in the Boreal Forest

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Denyse Dawe
Marc-André Parisien
Yan Boulanger
Jonathan Boucher
Alexandre Beauchemin
Dominique Arseneault
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Infrastructure built in fire-prone wildland areas often has a high potential of being impacted by wildfire. Managers designing infrastructure in these areas, therefore, require assessments of wildfire threat to quantify the uncertainty of future vegetation and climatic conditions. In this study, we combine wildfire simulation and forest landscape composition modeling to identify areas highly susceptible to wildfire within and surrounding a proposed conservation corridor in Quebec, Canada. In this measure, managers have proposed raising the conductors of a new 735-kV hydroelectric powerline above the forest canopy within a wildlife connectivity corridor to mitigate impacts to threatened boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus). Retention of coniferous vegetation, however, can increase the likelihood of an intense wildfire damaging powerline infrastructure. To assess the likelihood of high-intensity wildfires for the next 100 years, we evaluated three time periods (2020, 2070, 2120), three climate scenarios (observed, RCP 4.5, RCP 8.5), and four vegetation projections (static, no harvest, extensive harvesting, harvesting excluded in preserves). Under present-day conditions, we found a comparatively low probability of high-intensity wildfire within the corridor, due to the protective influence of a nearby, poorly regenerated burned area. Wildfire probability will increase into the future, with strong, weather-induced inflation in the number of annual ignitions and wildfire spread potential. However, a conversion to less-flammable vegetation triggered by interactions between climate change and disturbance may attenuate this trend. By addressing the range of uncertainty of future conditions, we present a robust strategy to assist decision-making about long-term risk management for the proposed conservation measure and powerline.

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