Forestry Work Can Reduce Wildfire Threat and Aid Fire Fighting

NELSON — Planting wildfire breaks, thinning forest fuels and executing prescribed burns can do as much to reduce the wildfire threat across British Columbia as fire suppression according to a provincial forestry industry association.

30 July Press-2.doc

Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
Press Release
31 July 2007

“As we face increasingly severe wildfires and extended fire seasons across the province the forestry work we need to undertake in the woods when the fires aren’t burning is going to become more critical to the survival of communities and eco-systems,” says John Betts Executive Director Western Silvicultural Contractors Association (WSCA). Betts says decades of successful fire suppression have seen our forests fill in with more trees and more fuels on the forests’ floors. The ongoing mountain pine beetle plague along with other bugs and blight are adding to that load. And climate change is literally capable of fanning the flames.

“We can expect to regularly see more fire behaviour across B.C. like we are seeing in the Kootenays this summer—fires that expand rapidly and are extremely dangerous and difficult to contain and suppress,” says Dave Duncan a forestry and firefighting contractor from Nelson. “In many cases the only thing that is going to extinguish these kinds of fires may be winter.”

The remedy then is to “take the heat out of the woods” before they burn by reducing the hazardous wildfire fuels available to lightning strikes and errant humans. Governments have begun to recognize the threat in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), but Duncan says the problem is widespread across the provincial landscape not just around villages and towns.

“Few of the catastrophic fires which are burning homes across North America, Australia and Europe today start in those interface neighbourhoods. They build their momentum up in the fuel-laden woods miles from where they do their worst damage to communities.”

Duncan points out that watersheds, transportation and transmission corridors, parks, critical habitat and the remaining stocks of future harvestable lumber all stand exposed to catastrophic wildfire. These values at risk need to be recognized and addressed as well.

“Considering that there are millions of hectares across the province building up fuel in the wake of the mountain pine beetle it is going to be impossible to make the forests fire proof,” says Betts. But an aggressive, long term program of strategic forestry work could substantially reduce the threat. That could include creating fuel breaks by logging and then planting deciduous trees at critical points on the land capable of intercepting large run-away burns. These “ wildfire speed bumps” could create places where suppression crews could begin to anchor their efforts and fight more effectively.

Lighting prescribed burn fires out of the fire season and returning to using fire silviculturally would reduce the hazard. Commercial thinning and directing salvage logging activities towards forest health goals should also be a priority not only in parks and near communities but anywhere where values are threatened. Strategically it may take the establishment of a ministry of natural resources who’s principal mandate will be to restore eco-system health across the province rather than the jurisdictional diffusion that exists today between governments and bureaucracies said Betts.

“We are very good at fighting fires, in fact we put most of them out,” says Betts. “But across North America about one percent of the fires do 90 percent of the catastrophic damage. We can’t fight these kinds of fires effectively, if at all. They will be more numerous and worse in the future if we don’t act today.”

According to the WSCA the province should have a restoration program comparable to its suppression program.

“We need to commit our tax dollars and resources to getting ahead of the fire problem. Over the long run it will be a more effective investment,” Betts said.

For more information contact:

John Betts
Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
250-229-4380 hotpulp@netidea.com