Nelson at highest risk for wildfire, expert says

Bruce Blackwell: “The system doesn’t move fast enough for this issue.” Photo submittedBruce Blackwell: “The system doesn’t move fast enough for this issue.” Photo submitted
Bob Gray: “The science is very, very clear that if you just do thinning, you’re not really solving much of the problem. You really need to clean up the surface fuels.” Photo submitted.Bob Gray: “The science is very, very clear that if you just do thinning, you’re not really solving much of the problem. You really need to clean up the surface fuels.” Photo submitted.

Of all towns in B.C. with populations of 10,000 or less, Nelson has the greatest risk of being destroyed by a wildfire, Bruce Blackwell told the Star in 2018.

Does he still think that?

“Yes. It hasn’t changed,” says the North Vancouver-based wildfire consultant.

“We will lose communities before we fix them,” Blackwell says. “I’m not saying we’re going to lose Nelson, but there will be more that burn before we get a chance to fix them. Fort MacMurray was a classic one. I worked on their fire management plan. It was finished in February, and it was burned out by the end of May.”

Specific high-risk forests around Nelson and Harrop Procter and in West Arm and Kokanee Creek Provincial Parks have been identified and mapped since 2010 (partly by Blackwell himself), and the idea was to treat those areas by thinning the trees, limbing them up to a certain height, and getting rid of dry undergrowth and deadfall.

Only five per cent has been done

Only five per cent of that work has been done, according to John Cathro, a Kaslo forest consultant who did much of the mapping work with Blackwell.

Cathro says that is because the provincial government’s delivery and funding models keep changing, causing confusion for regional districts, municipalities, and First Nations.

Some of the work in high-risk areas near Nelson is being done this year, and Blackwell says he does not mean to discredit the local people doing that work (RDCK, City of Nelson, BC Parks), but he says they are a victim of provincial government bureaucracy.

“The system doesn’t move fast enough for this issue.”

The problem lies in the nature of government, he says.

“The bureaucracy is only capable of going so far in any issue, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking healthcare, education … but for this issue, we need to go faster. And I don’t know how you change the pace at which we go.”

Doing just the bare minimum

Chilliwack-based wildfire consultant Bob Gray is equally frustrated.

The real problem, he says, is on Crown land that is tenured to timber companies.

Gray says the provincial government is reluctant to do anything other than a bare minimum of field treatments on Crown land because that might constrain the timber harvest.

“The focus is still timber, timber, timber. Maintaining the cut.”

But he says it is possible to maintain the cut and reduce fire risk. Companies could grow fewer and bigger trees and clean up the ground below them. But that would mean some big changes in forest management.

“The premier was saying a year ago that we need to shift the focus to less gross density to bigger piece sizes so that each piece has more value. That means lower density stands, and we just manage them better.”

Piece size means the size of sawn material that can be cut from a tree.

“If we’re managing lower density and bigger piece sizes, we can also manage for fire then at the same time. And that’s just not happening.”

Thinning, burning, and watersheds

Gray says much of the thinning being done is not enough, and that the forest floor has to be burned afterwards.

“The science is very, very clear that if you just do thinning, you’re not really solving much of the problem. You really need to clean up the surface fuels.”

And then there is the issue of watersheds. Provincial policy prioritizes the protection of communities and their high-value assets like telecommunications infrastructure. But watersheds are not included as a priority, which should be of interest to Nelson since we get our water from the surface of slopes in a high-risk forest.

“If we destroy a watershed, you might as well pack up the town and move it. We’re looking at tens of millions of dollars [in damage and reconstruction].”

A landscape-level problem

In its Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia (2019), the province lists 15 likely results of climate change and ranks them according to a matrix of likelihood and severity of consequences. A severe wildfire season came out on top (followed closely by seasonal water shortage, heat wave, and ocean acidification).

Gray says the need for fuel mitigation is a landscape-level problem, rather than one that is siloed into individual tracts of forest and the various agencies and companies that oversee them.

That’s going to take a re-think at the provincial government level, he says, one that was recommended by the Gary Filmon in Firestorm 2003, a report prepared for the provincial government in 2004 advocating widespread change, including timber tenure reform, much of which was not implemented.

“In the intervening 16 years since Filmon,” Gray says, “climate change and the continued lack of large-scale fuel mitigation has only made the wildfire issue worse, and only now are many of the recommendations that were not acted upon receiving the attention they deserve.”


More planned forest fires needed: wildfire expert

New wildfire fuel mitigation work planned for Nelson area

• Nelson area wildfire protection plan presented

Wildfire: Nelson most endangered of BC towns over 10,000, expert says

Kalesnikoff to collaborate with RDCK, city, on logging near Nelson

Queens Bay FireSmart status requires community effort

Nelson creates rules for wildfire resistant landscaping and building

Partnership builds road for Nelson wildfire protection

• Action by Nelson area landowners key to wildfire safety, expert says

• FireSmart assessment an eye-opener for Nelson homeowner

Reducing fire danger in West Arm Park

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

School District 8 says a COVID-19 exposure has occurred at Nelson’s Rosemont Elementary. Photo: School District 8
Class at Nelson’s Rosemont Elementary in isolation after COVID-19 exposure

It’s not clear if any students or teachers were infected

FILE — In this March 31, 2021 file photo, a nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the Vaxmobile, at the Uniondale Hempstead Senior Center, in Uniondale, N.Y. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating clots in six women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
72 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases in the region to 9,666 since the pandemic began

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

BC Assessment stats show the majority of Baker Street properties are likely to be locally owned. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Data shows Nelson locals own majority of Baker Street properties

BC Assessment provided mailing address stats for the city’s main street

The toxic drug supply crisis was announced on April 14, 2016. File photo
Nelson demonstration to mark five years of toxic drug supply crisis

An information booth will also be available at ANKORS

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. sees 873 more COVID-19 cases Tuesday, decline continues

Hospitalizations up to 377, two more deaths for 1,515 total

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – People hold signs during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to request federal exemption for simple drug possession

Announcement comes on 5-year anniversary of B.C.’s first public health emergency

(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, FIle)
Rare blood clots ‘may be linked’ to AstraZeneca vaccines: Health Canada

One case of the adverse effect has been reported in Canada

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Observers ‘gutted’ as pair filmed removing red dresses hung along B.C. highway

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Indigenous Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

A grey whale off the coast of Vancouver Island is being monitored by Canadian and U.S. researchers, as it has developed lesions after being tagged last year. To try and prevent systemic infection from developing, the team administered antibiotics to the whale on March 31 and April 1. (Photo from the NOAA Fisheries website)
Grey whale off Vancouver Island develops lesions after being tagged, researchers monitor its condition

Canadian and U.S. whale experts administered antibiotics to the animal on March 31, April 1

Most Read