When PhD student Kira Hoffman first came to the BC Central Coast in the summer of 2012, she was struck by the wetness of the area. But surprisingly, while walking through a bog on Calvert Island, she saw charred trees with burnt scars. Why was there evidence of fire in a coastal rainforest, one of the wettest places in North America?
Hoffman and colleagues from the Hakai Institute, the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Oregon investigated the history of fire in the area by analyzing fire scars on the trees, as well as layers of charcoal found deposited in soils. What they found was evidence that, in a region with scant lightning and heavy rainfall, fires were occurring with surprising regularity for the past 13,000 years.
“This isn’t just a small-scale, single incident. We have these large, repeated fires on this landscape and most fires occurred close to former village sites. That gave us the inkling that people may have been starting these fires,” says Hoffman.
They published their findings in a new paper in the scientific journal Ecosphere.
“Fire could be a really important component of this ecosystem, and we just don’t even understand the general ecology, or the far-reaching implications of fire here,” says Hoffman.