Tech & Science

Alberta wildfire experts in Bolivia to help with fire training, prevention

Jane Park, who first visited Bolivia in January, hiked nearly 20 kilometers with a national park ranger to a steep and secluded spot home to endangered palm trees and the Andes, or spectacled bears. Did.

Much of the area of ​​ANMI-El Palmar, one of the national protected areas, had been destroyed by wildfires.

“A lot of the areas they’re fighting are very remote,” Park said in a recent interview from Banff, Alta.

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Unpaid off his regular job as a fire and vegetation expert at Banff National Park, Park spends part of the offseason helping the Bolivian government prepare for more fires due to climate change. One of two Alberta professionals.

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It is part of Global Affairs Canada’s Technical Assistance Partnership, which enables Canadians of diverse backgrounds to share their expertise in other countries.

Park found the opportunity online and signed the contract. This started when he visited Bolivia in January to tour his five reserves in the country.

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The trek to El Palmar, an integrated managed natural area, was the same route taken by park rangers when the fire broke out.

“I can’t believe it,” said Park. “They walk tremendous distances. They are locals, accustomed to high altitudes, and in very good health.

“But if you imagine that it would take even the most qualified ranger several hours to walk through the fire, the amount of fire growth that occurs during that time and the challenges involved in fighting without an aircraft or a decent source of water are all It’s more challenging.

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Park added that rangers carry portable water packs and use machetes to fight the fire.

“In Canada, you have easy access to planes and water,” she said. “So there are definitely some interesting and very challenging conditions that people have to grapple with.

“We have to make sure we’re tailoring what we’re training to their reality.”

Park, who returned to Bolivia this week, said he is helping the environment department improve management practices and build capacity to respond to these fires.

“It’s all about prevention, containment, wildfire management, communication and surveillance.”

Bolivia’s protected areas have high biodiversity, but wildfires from prolonged fires due to drought and climate change threaten them.

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Global Forest Watch says the country has lost 1.6 million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2021. Some studies show that these wildfires are one of the greatest threats to endangered bird species.

As fires last longer, grow in size, and become more frequent, more agencies, including local volunteers, fire brigades, and the military, are helping park services, Park said.

“Park rangers are the most experienced, so they’re probably leading less experienced people,” says Park. “They don’t receive additional training on how to lead resources or how to lead people who may not have the same level of experience as them.”

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While Park is helping train those rangers, another Alberta expert is working with the Bolivian military.

Senior wildfire expert Mike May said the military had formed a task force including members of the army, navy and air force to respond to emergencies in areas such as the Bolivian Amazon.

Contracted as a ‘side job’ in addition to her regular job, Mei will travel to Bolivia for a week in January to conduct a needs analysis and will return this month to provide training.

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“There aren’t many funds available to them,” he said in an interview from Hinton, Alta. “They have some tools, but they may not be as good as we are in Canada. We are very lucky to be here.”

Click to play video: 'Bolivia steps up efforts to curb wildfires'

Bolivia steps up efforts to curb wildfires

May, who has previously provided expertise in South Africa and Australia, said he would train a group of military personnel and then front-line soldiers to help fight fires.

“The hope is … they start on the right track so that they can build a wildfire program within the military,” he said.

May and Park said they recognize the need for cross-agency training and plan to provide it as well.

“It’s always unique and fascinating to be able to go to different agencies and jurisdictions and see how they manage wildfires,” said May. “There is no doubt that we can bring back good lessons from Bolivia.”

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He feels fortunate to have the opportunity to offer his expertise.

“We are Canadians. We just want to help people,” May added.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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