Several areas of forest designated in 2016 as being at high risk of wildfire will receive fuel treatment this fall, co-ordinated by BC Parks, the Regional District of Central Kootenay and the City of Nelson.
The at-risk areas all have excess dry fuel close to the ground in locations near human habitation.
Four of the projects are in West Arm Provincial Park, a 26,000-hectare wilderness area that extends east into the Purcell Mountains from the shore of Kootenay Lake between Nelson and Harrop.
“We will have to close some mountain bike trails and hiking trails,’ said Amanda Weber-Roy, Kootenay conservation specialist for BC Parks. “That information will be posted on the BC Parks website.”
Aside from the danger to the forest in the park itself, a wildfire there could destroy Nelson’s water supply, which comes partly from surface water on the forested slopes of the park. A fire could threaten the water source, the pipes that transport it off the mountain, and the city itself.
Weber-Roy has organized four projects for this fall in high risk areas of the park:
• hand treatment of 12.7 ha about one km up Svoboda Road
• prescribed burning on 22.3 ha treated last year in the Svoboda Road area
• mechanical treatment of 15.4 ha at Strickland Creek near Harrop
• hand treatment of 12.7 ha along Lasca Road near Harrop.
(One hectare (ha) is a square 100 metres by 100 metres, or approximately equal to the size of 2.5 football fields.)
Hand treatment means retaining large dominant trees but thinning from below by removing small trees, pruning the retained trees from the ground up to increase the height to the crown, and removing all wood debris on the ground. The result: a forest of large trees with no underbrush, small trees, or debris.
Mechanical treatment means working with conventional logging equipment to reduce the hazard.
Queens Bay and Selous Creek
Near Queens Bay, the RDCK has reached an agreement with Cooper Creek Cedar about how the company will log a 67 ha section of forest, the northernmost of two parcels under discussion.
The RDCK’s wildfire mitigation supervisor Joel Hamilton told the Star that in some areas the company will be doing conventional logging or cable logging. They will also be carrying out hand treatment of surface fuels as well in selected locations, leaving a greater mix of tree species, keeping species that are less susceptible to fire, and doing more post-harvest cleanup than they might otherwise do.
Any fuel mitigation work beyond the company’s usual logging practices will be subsidized by the province through the Forest Enhancement Society of BC with money applied for by the RDCK.
The rural community at Queens Bay has been involved in lengthy discussions with the RDCK and Cooper Creek Cedar about this work. Are community members in agreement with the arrangement?
“They are, for the most part,” Hamilton said. “And they’ve been very engaged through this whole process and I can’t say enough good things about the community there.”
A similar arrangement applies to 70 hectares of forest on Crown land at Selous Creek just south of Nelson on slopes visible from the city, to be logged by Kalesnikoff Lumber.
Reducing risk within the city
The City of Nelson will treat 18 different locations on city property starting this fall.
The Nelson Fire Department’s Scott Jeffery said crews will be removing dead and woody debris to reduce the fuel load. Some of the work will be on previously developed land not currently in use. It’s a continuation of work done over the past few years.
“We completed one larger one last fall that’s right below Mount St. Francis,” said Jeffery. “There’s a large gully there that had never had any work or treatment in it, and so the new growth in there was just thousands and thousands of stems per hectare. You couldn’t even walk through the forest, it was so thick.”
Examples of work to be done this year:
• 1600 block of McQuarrie Street (0.1 ha) undeveloped road right-of-way
• Prince Phillip Park (0.8 ha) (this park is between Selby and Mill Streets above the hospital)
• Highway 3A/6 interchange (2.5 ha)
Jeffery hopes this activity will set an example for homeowners in Nelson to use the fire department’s FireSmart program in which a trained assessor will walk the property and advise on how to be less vulnerable to fire including from airborne embers that can travel up to 10 km.
“The city is trying to do our due diligence on the city properties and then inspire the homeowners to take that really important step on their own own lands,” Jeffery said.
The collaboration between BC Parks, the RDCK and the city involves sharing resources and information, keeping the community informed, and working with landowners.
But the three agencies are still siloed in many ways: they still have to work independently with their own planning processes, funding, and staffing.
This fire mitigation partnership is a step in the right direction, Weber-Roy said, and this level of communication between sectors about wildfire mitigation is almost unheard of.
“We think like this is pretty unique in the province. I don’t really know of anywhere else in the province where a municipality, a regional district and BC Parks are working together.”