Barriers to FireSmart Development in Alberta

This research project explored municipal land use and development for wildfire risk mitigation in Alberta. The project ran from July 2019 to July 2021.

Fire-Adapted Communities: The Relevance of Land Use Planning and Development

Since 1991, FireSmart Canadahas encouraged communities with wildland-urban interface (WUI) to become fire-adapted ("FireSmart") by proactively taking steps to reduce the risk of loss of life and property from wildland fires.

A key FireSmart recommendation is that communities use land use planning (FireSmart Legislation discipline) and development standards (FireSmart Development discipline) to mitigate exposure and impacts of wildland fire. Protective actions include zoning to prohibit homes in high-risk areas; legislating safer subdivision design, including road networks and building setbacks; requiring fire-resistant materials on buildings; regulating flammable materials on properties; and keeping vulnerable populations away from higher risk areas.

Why Did We Study Barriers to FireSmart Development?

In spite of widespread recognition of the effectiveness of spatial planning and development-based mitigation approaches among hazard risk mitigation researchers, these tools appeared to be underused in Albertan communities and elsewhere.

This was cause for concern because the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire events in Western North America is increasing due to past wildfire/forest management practices, the effects of climate change, and expansion of development in areas prone to wildfires. As a result, Alberta's communities can expect to be at greater risk of losses due to wildland fires in the future.

The Aim of Our Project

The devastating and costly experiences of the Slave Lake (2011) and Fort McMurray (2016) communities demonstrate the need to take the threat of wildland fire seriously in Alberta. Through the Barriers to FireSmart Development Project, we primarily explored the extent to which municipalities in Alberta are using planning and development to reduce wildfire disaster risk in communities. We also wanted to know whether municipal planners perceived barriers to using a land use planning approach to mitigating wildfire.

Using literature review and survey research methods, we were able to:

  • catalogue how municipalities in Alberta are using land use planning and development regulations to mitigate wildfire risk

  • identify perceived constraints to the FireSmart Legislation and Development disciplines;

  • exploring planners perceptions of their own training and competence; and

  • consider strategies for overcoming barriers to FireSmart planning and development in order to increase the resilience of communities living with wildfire.

We also provided a description and summary of the activities and participants of the FRIAA FireSmart Program in Alberta.

[Banner photo credit: John Ulan]

Learn more about our research.

The Barriers to FireSmart Development in Alberta project was initiated by FireSmart Alberta and researchers of the Human Dimensions of Hazards Research Group, located in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Barriers to FireSmart Development in Alberta was funded (2019–2021) by the Alberta Government's Wildfire Management Science & Technology Grant (WSMT).

We respectfully acknowledge that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory, traditional lands of First Nations and Métis people.