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Experts warn of unpredictable wildfire season ahead

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The wildfire season of 2023 was unlike any other in Canada, and while the snow hasn't even melted, wildfires are on the minds of many forest industry experts.

Wildfires burned roughly 18.5 million hectares of Canadian land last year, and in some provinces, they never stopped through the winter.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), 148 active wildfires have been smouldering since last summer, including two that are considered out of control.

"Things are becoming less predictable," said Jess Kaknevicius, Forests Ontario CEO. "The unpredictability of what our future holds is probably the biggest challenge, especially over the last few years."

Forests Ontario held its annual conference on Wednesday in Vaughan to discuss ways to address issues like wildfire season, climate change, invasive specials and reforestation.

"Alberta has already declared its wildfire season to have begun, well before the time we usually see it," said Rob Keen, Canadian Tree Nursery Association executive director and former Forests Ontario CEO.

Keen said his association works with a network of Canadian nurseries towards planting and reforesting Canadian land as part of the federal government's two billion tree commitment over the next decade.

Keen said cuts to the industry and a lack of skilled workers have made the large-scale operation of rejuvenating forests more challenging.

"We're going to fall behind if we don't continue to ensure we have the resources in place," he said. "In particular, (there is) a huge gap in skilled nursery workers available. There's actually no schools in Canada that teach the work that we need."

Keen said industry experts are working towards creating programming at post-secondary institutions.

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