Impacts of climate change on wildfire risk in boreal forests in the Northwest Territories
Principal Investigator: Asselin, Hugo (1)
Licence Number: 16333
Organization: Univ. Quebec Abitibi-Temiscamingue
Licenced Year(s): 2018
Issued: Jun 14, 2018
Project Team: Hugo Asselin (Supervisor (interviews & lakes), Univ QC Abitibi-Temiscamingue), Adam A. Ali (Supervisor (lakes), Universite Montpellier), Igor Drobyshev (Supervisor (trees), Univ QC Abitibi-Temiscamingue)

Objective(s): To reconstruct the multi-century history of wildfire and vegetation in the Northwest Territories by analyzing charcoal contained in lake sediments, and to establish the links between recent fire activity and climatic data by studying tree growth rings (annual resolution).

Project Description: The three main objectives of this research are: 1) to reconstruct the multi-century history of wildfire and vegetation in the Northwest Territories by analyzing charcoal contained in lake sediments; 2) to establish the links between recent fire activity and climatic data by studying tree growth rings (annual resolution); and, 3) to combine this scientific knowledge to indigenous knowledge obtained from participatory mapping and interviews to develop a model of future wildfire risk and to suggest adaptation measures to foster community resilience.

Interviews will be conducted in the 4 Tlicho communities with people that will accept to share their knowledge of wildfire: why and where it happens, what are the impacts on land use and cultural activities. Participants will be recruited with the help of two members from the Tlicho Nation Office and local leaders in each community. About 10-15 interviews will be done in each community, each lasting between 30 minutes and 1 hour approximately. Interviews will be held in English or in the Tlicho language (with the help of an interpreter). Participants will be provided with a map to draw places that have been affected by fire or that are deemed vulnerable to fire. Interviews will be audio recorded to ease analyses. Interview recordings and transcripts and maps will be kept in a password-protected computer and in locked file cabinets at Universite du Quebec en Abitibi-Temiscamingue. Five years after results will have been published, all information (recordings, transcripts, maps) will be destroyed. All information will remain confidential. No names will be published, nor any information that could allow to identify participants indirectly. Maps will not be published and will only be used to help researchers understand how wildfire impacts/knowledge are distributed on the land.

Sediment cores will be collected from 2-3 lakes around each of the 4 communities (8-12 lakes in total). Small lakes with deep water will be selected within a 50-km radius around each community. Sediment cores will be taken from each lake for charcoal analyses. Cores will be taken with a gravity corer that is simply dropped to the bottom of the lake from a dingy boat. Each core will be approximately 3-inches wide and 1-m long. No device will be left on site following coring, which will last 1 day at each site.

At each lake, about 30 trees will be cored, less than 200 m from the shore, with a standard tree borer. Additional trees (about 100) will be sampled near the road in the Behchoko area. No tree will be killed and the holes from the borer will heal rapidly. Core diameter is about 1/4 inch. If dead trees are present, disks might be cut with a chain saw. No device will be left on site after sampling.

Fieldwork will be done on the territory of the Tlicho Nation and will involve the assistance of community members. Three different types of fieldwork will be done : interviews with Tlicho people about wildfire knowledge; tree coring for short-term wildfire history reconstruction (last 200 years approx. - using annual growth rings and fire scars on trees); and lake sediment coring for long-term wildfire history reconstruction (2000 years and more; using wood charcoal particles trapped in lake sediments). Furthermore, Tlicho people will be consulted when results of the laboratory analyses will be out, to make sure that interpretations are sound. The Tlicho Nation will always hear of any result first. The end-product of the project is a decision-aiding tool that will allow the Tlicho Nation to better predict wildfire risk and put in place appropriate adaptation measures.

Following the laboratory analyses (which will be done in Quebec and in France), all results will be discussed and validated with the Tlicho Nation and communities, either in the communities or in the Tlicho Nation offices in Behchoko and Yellowknife. Following validation, results will be published in 3 doctoral theses that will be available for download from the Universite du Quebec en Abitibi-Temiscamingue website (http://depositum.uqat.ca). Articles will also be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and presented in academic and scientific conferences. The end-result of the whole project is a decision-aid tool which will be given to the Tlicho Nation. Upon request, 2-page recto-verso flyers can be produced, outlining the main results of the project.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 14, 2018 to November 2, 2018.