Columbia Researcher works on a project to prevent Wildfires in Chile

Chile’s 2016-2017 fire season was the worst in history. More than 500,000 hectares of wildfires affected cities, towns, and rural areas, including national parks and reserves.

December 13, 2017

Chile’s 2016-2017 fire season was the worst in history. More than 500,000 hectares of wildfires affected cities, towns, and rural areas, including national parks and reserves. The social, economic, and health impacts were severe. Hence, there is a need to understand the causes and consequences of wildfires, and implement innovative approaches to preventing them. With support of Columbia University’s (CU) Presidential Global Innovation Fund and the Columbia Global Center Santiago, researchers at CU and Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Católica (UC) came together in Santiago and Southern Chile in October 2017 to design research that will examine (a) climatic and anthropogenic causes of wildfires, (b) ecological and socioeconomic consequences once they occur, and (c) how to apply The Rainforest Standard Protected Area Credits™ (RFS|PAC) system, a science-based financial mechanism, to incentivize their prevention. A week of seminars, fieldwork, and meetings led to discussions with Chile’s Protected Area authority (Conaf), Emergency Services authority (Onemi), and private sector representatives in forestry; a choice of the project’s research sites (Malleco National Park and Tolhuaca National Reserve); and a detailed research plan that starting in March 2018 will deploy a team of scientists (and their students) from CU, UC, and other US, Chilean, and Canadian universities, who are leaders in wildfire assessment and modeling, below and above ground ecology, forest and biodiversity conservation, socio-cultural and socio-economic analysis, and environmental policy and climate change adaptation. The three-year project is being led by CU Professor Don Melnick, Center for Environment, Economy, and Society (CEES) and Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (E3B), and UC Professor Cristián Bonacic, Chair, Department of Ecosystems and The Environment.