© iStock As millions of acres burn in the Arctic, creating a common language around wildfire management is key 7 September 2020Agreements and cooperationArctic PeoplesBiodiversityClimateEmergenciesGwich'in Council InternationalConservation of Arctic Flora and FaunaEmergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Record-setting wildfire seasons are becoming a new normal in the Arctic. While uncontrolled wildfires are devastating, could fire also be a tool for biodiversity and mitigating climate change? Gwich’in Council International (GCI) is tackling wildfire challenges and fostering new opportunities through Arctic Council projects focused on circumpolar collaboration. Edward Alexander and Devlin Fernandes represent Gwich’in Council International in the Circumpolar Wildland Fire project with the Council’s Emergency, Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group and the Arctic FIRE project with the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group. We spoke with Edward and Devlin about the impact of wildfires in the Arctic, the importance of bringing Indigenous knowledge into management practices, how the coronavirus pandemic impacts the 2020 wildfire season and how circumpolar collaboration and knowledge sharing are essential. How is the 2020 wildfire season in the Arctic? Edward Alexander: In Alaska there has been record-setting rain in the interior, and so the fire season here is one of the smallest Alaska has seen for the last 30 to 40 years. Alternatively, Russia has had a major wildfire season this year. There has been a heat dome over Siberia for long periods of time. While we have not had the fire season this year in Alaska, we do have smoke from Siberia coming over to Northern and interior Alaska. Irregular seasons like this is something you can expect with climate change. Devlin Fernandes: Similarly in Canada, the 2020 wildfire season was much less severe than anticipated. How are Gwich’in communities impacted by wildfires? Edward Alexander: Over the last 20 years, we have seen fires burn close to communities causing huge amounts of smoke and evacuations at times. There are associated health risks with the smoke. We have had a lot of acreage burn near our communities that are important for a variety of species that we depend on like moose, caribou and small game. Over the last several years wildfires are starting to spread to other areas of the North such as Canada and Siberia in a similar devastating fashion. This is something that will continue to trend upwards. And we need to understand it a lot more than we currently do. Devlin Fernandes: In addition to the health risks and food insecurity caused by wildfires, there are impacts on people’s ability to engage in cultural practices and medicine harvesting, impacts on traplines and transportation routes and impacts on feelings of security and anxiety when you witness or experience fires in prolonged ways.