BC Wildfire Service photo

Green Beat: The wicked problem of wildfires

Although ‘wicked problem’ sounds like a something from a fairytale, it is actually a technical term

  • Jul. 27, 2017 4:03 p.m.

By David Clements

My wife and I recently met up with a family of evacuees fleeing the forest fires in the Williams Lake area. It was amazing to see how calm they seemed in the midst of the serious threat to their home.

Although the term “wicked problem” sounds like a something from a fairytale, it is actually a technical term for a very complex problem.

A “normal” problem by comparison usually has a single solution to solve the problem if carried out correctly.

The “wicked” encountered in fairytales is a very appropriate adjective for complex problems.

It is like a dream — a nightmare — from which you can’t escape, and the more you to try to deal with the issues, the more you seem to lose the battle. It is always such a relief for me to wake up from such dreams.

One element of the current wicked problem in B.C. is an insect the size of a grain of rice — the mountain pine beetle. Scores of these native beetles have combined to infest over 18 million ha of forest in B.C., leaving lodgepole pines standing dead (and easy to burn) in their wake.

Another element of the wicked problem is climate change – with winters no longer being cold enough to kill the overwintering beetles, they have reached much higher numbers than normal.

Another human-caused element of the wicked problem (in addition to climate change) is the planting densities of these pines, allowing too much fuel to build up, especially near human habitations.

Another element of the wicked problem is that one of the best solutions is to “fight fire with fire” using prescribed burning, to reduce future fire risk. This is particularly “wicked” because fire itself is the very thing residents in areas vulnerable to fire are trying to avoid.

Fortunately, there are many experts and hard-working British Columbians up against this wicked problem.

We humans are blessed with both very complex minds and a whole lot of courage, both of which we see working to solve the wicked problem of wildfires in B.C.

Government agencies and researchers have done a lot of work to understand the problem and attempt to manage the fuel load that threatens communities like Ashcroft, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

Obviously that has not been enough to stop the fires stoked by the dry, windy weather conditions we have faced this year…so this is where courage comes in.

Kudos to the numerous officials managing the disaster throughout the province and to the thousands of firefighters from B.C. and elsewhere who have courageously taken on the challenge of this very wicked problem this summer. May they soon be rewarded for their efforts.

David Clements, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University

RELATED: Wildfire fighting costs hit $154 million

RELATED: Williams Lakers finally allowed home after wildfire

Just Posted

VIDEO: Crash closes Fraser Highway in Langley

One vehicle ends up in ditch, air ambulance called in

VIDEO: Drive by shooting in Langley (updated)

Truck and house damaged in attack

Upgrades could be coming to popular Penzer Park in Langley City (with video)

Council considers a staff proposal that would move up construction of planned washroom, benches picnic tables and shelter

VIDEO: celebrating Diwali in Langley

Muriel Arnason library marks event for 14th time

Cloverdale Christmas Hamper struggling to find space for season

A growing year-round kitchen has kicked the holiday food program out of its warehouse space

VIDEO: Sears liquidation sales continue across B.C.

Sales are expected to continue into the New Year

WATCH: 10,000 signatures gained to stop ‘no pets’ rental policy

Pets OK BC said about 1,700 animals were surrendered to the BC SPCA last year due to housing issues

Silver Creek reacts after remains found, man arrested

Neighbours of property where remains were found say man arrested was sweet and polite

VIDEO: Oprah Winfrey and a celebrities attend ‘B.C. Miracle Concert’

Fundraiser featured Foster, Steven Tyler, The Tenors, Matteo Bocelli, Laura Bretan, Carly Rae Jepsen

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Holy Heritage Rail Batman: Superheros come to Cloverdale historic train

The Fraser Valley Heritage Rail is hosting its third annual Halloween rail adventure Oct 28, 29

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

Most Read