West Arm Park was formed in 1995 to protect 26,199 hectares of land located along Kootenay Lake between Nelson and Harrop and the mountains behind.                                Photo: B.C. Parks

West Arm Park was formed in 1995 to protect 26,199 hectares of land located along Kootenay Lake between Nelson and Harrop and the mountains behind. Photo: B.C. Parks

Reducing fire danger in West Arm Park

Nelson’s water supply originates in the park and is vulnerable to fire

West Arm Provincial Park is at high risk for wildfire, and B.C. Parks has published a plan to reduce the danger.

The West Arm Provincial Park Fire Management Plan (attached below) states that much of the park sits between seven and 10 on a 10-point fire risk scale.

But local forester and a fuel mitigation consultant John Cathro, who co-authored a similar plan for the City of Nelson, says the park’s forest is no worse than anywhere else in the local area where fire has been suppressed for many decades.

“It is a forest that grows very quickly, puts on a lot of biomass, and is taking on the condition of a forest that is overstocked, has too many trees per hectare, too many trees fighting for a limited amount of sunlight and water and soil nutrients,” he said. “As a result it is showing signs of decay and forest health mortality.”

In other words, a fire in the park would spread quickly and be hard to control.

Cathro said the hazard may be greater because of patches of pine beetle killed timber in the park that would probably have been logged by now, had it been outside the park.

A plan to create fire breaks

The plan calls for the creation of fuel breaks that take into consideration the entire landscape, not just the park. The effort will be coordinated with the City of Nelson, utility companies, timber licensees areas E and F of the Regional District of Central Kootenay.

B.C. Parks declined to discuss the plan with the Star. We were instead referred to a government communications officer who was not willing to set up an interview with anyone, but responded to our written questions by return email.

Fuel breaks in the park, the email stated, would “try to mimic natural processes that would occur as a result of more regular natural fires – forest thinning, shaded fuel breaks, depending on the vegetation and topography – a mosaic.”

Related story: RDCK plans wildfire fuel action (August 2017)

Fuel breaks are planned for five areas in the park:

• Adjacent to the community of Harrop-Procter (356 hectares)

• Adjacent to the City of Nelson (140 hectares)

• Adjacent to the Svoboda Road residences and a private Anderson Creek Timber lot (28 hectares)

• Along Five Mile Creek (43 hectares)

• The existing Five Mile Creek fuel break requires a maintenance prescription (69 hectares)

The email said B.C. Parks worked with the City of Nelson and the Regional District of Central Kootenay to decide on those areas. Depending on funding, the work could start “as early as next spring.”

Asked why the planning process has taken so long given the apparent fire danger in the park, the communications officer replied, “Addressing wildfire risk on a landscape level is complex and challenging, involving significant coordinated planning between multiple jurisdictions with multiple objectives. Recently secured funding by all agencies has allowed the planning to progress significantly over the past year.”

In addition to fire breaks, the plan covers three other subjects: a tactical response plan in case of a fire, collection of further park data, and a rehabilitation plan if a fire should occur.

Protecting cultural and ecological values

West Arm Park was formed in 1995 to protect 26,199 hectares of land located along Kootenay Lake between Nelson and Harrop and the mountains behind.

It was created to protect cultural and heritage values including First Nations archaeological sites situated along the lake shore, railway development and sternwheeler ships.

The park also protects a range of wildlife habitats ranging from lakeshore to alpine including old growth forests, grizzly bear and mountain caribou habitat, and important watersheds including Five Mile Creek, which feeds Nelson’s water supply.

West Arm Park is undeveloped, with no facilities or designated campsites.

The West Arm Provincial Park Fire Management Plan is attached below.

West Arm Provincial Park Draft Fire Mp 2017 by BillMetcalfe on Scribd