City of Toronto plans prescribed burns in High Park this spring to sustain and reinvigorate threatened habitat

2023 March 16

The City of Toronto is planning to conduct prescribed (controlled) burns in High Park in early spring as part of a long-term management plan to proactively protect rare black oak savannahs.

The exact date of this year’s prescribed burns is not yet known, as this important work depends heavily on weather conditions. The burns generally take place over one day at several locations in the park. Weather conditions are being monitored and burns will happen when optimal conditions are expected. These conditions are usually not known until 24 to 48 hours beforehand.

Prescribed burns are used in Toronto and throughout North America. A prescribed burn is a deliberately set and carefully controlled fire that burns low to the ground and consumes dried leaves, small twigs and grass stems but does not harm larger trees. Toronto’s Official Tree, the oak tree, has particularly thick, fire-resistant bark.

The controlled burns in High Park will not affect the cherry blossom trees in the park. Typically, controlled burns occur well before peak bloom (usually in late April or early May). Staff are monitoring the timing for this year’s cherry blossom bloom and will coordinate controlled burns to avoid overlap.

High Park will be closed to vehicular access on the day of burn, and people will be restricted from entering burn areas. Notices will be placed at park entrances and in the surrounding community to advise the public of when the burn will take place. The City will also announce the burn date on City website and social media channels.

Before European settlement, prescribed burns were used by Indigenous people to manage and maintain fire-dependent ecosystems, including the black oak savannahs in High Park. In recognition of this history, the City is engaged with Indigenous representatives to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the High Park burn and ensure that an Indigenous ceremony will be an essential part of the burn day activities.

The City has contracted a fire boss with extensive experience with complex prescribed burns to create the 2023 burn plan and implement it with assistance from City staff. The City has safely executed prescribed burns in High Park for two decades.

Under ideal weather conditions, the smoke from the burns would not affect surrounding neighbourhoods. Some smoke may reach residential areas near the parks. People with asthma and those highly sensitive to poison ivy should limit their exposure to the smoke by staying inside and keeping windows closed. Some people may choose to leave the general area of the park on the day of the burn if concerned about the smoke.

Prescribed burns are crucial to the City’s long-term management plan to protect and sustain Toronto’s rare black oak woodlands and savannahs in High Park, Lambton Park and South Humber Park. These rare vegetation communities are at risk of extinction in Toronto and throughout North America.

The results of the 2023 burns will be assessed and additional forest management techniques will be implemented as required. Those may include measures such as invasive species control, planting of native trees, shrubs and grasses, and ongoing site maintenance.

Detailed information about the prescribed burn is available on the City’s Trees in Toronto webpage.