Puntzi Lake fire burn
No, that’s not snow. The recent Puntzi Lake fire burn severity. (photo thanks to CBC news)

Rumour Mill RoundUpDate Vol 15 Issue 15

Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
Rumour Mill RoundUpDate

July 24, 2015
Vol. 15, Issue 15
Warning: Canadian philosopher and essayist John Ralston Saul has pointed out that there are enough facts around to prove just about anything. With that in mind, when facts are herded to face a certain direction, or selected to support an opinion, editorializing may be present. Some of the following contents may contain editorializing.

Wildfire in the News: Fire Season 2015 Living up to Expectations

First of all let’s talk about the picture above. The white ash is what happens when everything carbon-based is consumed by fire. Carbon, of course, is essential to anything living. So this site in the Cariboo faces the prospect of remaining lifeless and sterile for some time; a prelude perhaps for desertification, rather than recovery. It takes a configuration of temperature, drought, and fuel to create this kind of high burn severity. From what can be inferred from the picture the fuel load comprised downed large logs, a likely dense carpet of needles, and a stressed stand of conifers judging by the stunted snags. This kind of overgrown forest type is common across many areas of the interior and susceptible to ecologically destructive wildfires like this one. Not good news then.

Politicians Remark on Wildfire

Now let’s talk about politicians and wildfire. They’ve noticed and remarked on wildfire lately and this is good news. B.C. Premier Christie Clark and her Saskatchewan counterpart Brad Walls have called for a national approach to fighting wildfires. Both premiers preside over provinces having bad fire seasons. Either unreported, or unspoken, were any comments from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley who also is contending with fire. Alberta, of course, is investing $100-million annually over ten years to reduce the fuels that feed the fires in her province. Premier Clark’s Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative program is in the middle of a funding hiatus after spending $100 million on planning and fuel reduction over the last ten years. But we digress. Prime Minister Harper appears to have heard the premiers saying recently in Kelowna, while touring fire crews, that the governments would talk about resources, mitigation, and better coordination once the smoke clears. Most of the comments were in the context of suppression as the way to deal with the “new normal” fire seasons.

Call in the Bombers: What Can We Learn from WWII Allied Bomber Command?

This possible focus on suppression as the main objective for a joint provincial-federal wildfire strategy is why we need to go back to World War II. Allied air raids were suffering high losses. Command brought in a Jewish mathematician Abraham Wald to make proposals on how to better armour their bombers. He mapped the damage on the planes. And then astonished everyone by stating they needed to armour the areas where there wasn’t any damage. Command didn’t understand until Wald pointed out that his damage maps were from the bombers that made it back. Wald was ingenious enough to recognize that the damage on the returning areas indicated where the planes could actually tolerate flak and cannon strikes. The planes that weren’t returning were being hit in the blank parts of his diagram.

This digression of course is an allegory for current events. If the politicians think we need to focus on suppression as the main thrust of a new approach they have failed to learn the right lessons from the last decade and a half of catastrophic wildfire both here and abroad. They will be putting armour in the wrong place. A better strategy would be to focus on reducing fuel loading and restoring the landscape to some better state of equilibrium to reduce fire severity. Otherwise their new approach will just be the old approach, but with more of it. And it won’t work.

Mark your calendars:

The BC SAFE Silviculture Program will continue to work on its MSI reduction strategy with an open conference call set for Thursday 30 July 0900 hours. This one hour session will continue work on developing promising practices on measuring and classifying injury types to benchmark progress and target strategies.
1-866-613-5223, access code 764151#.

The Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association will hold its annual WSCA 2015 Summer Business Summit in Richmond B.C. on Wednesday 2 September. This day-long meeting is open to all contractors and will include projections for next year’s B.C. planting program, an introduction to BCTS’s contractor rating system, review of the WSCA revised Code of Ethics and Conduct and an update on the Forestry Service Provider’s Protection Act and silviculture contracting.

This fall will see a reprise of last year’s Vancouver Island nursery tour and seedling production workshop. No firm date or location as of yet. But the event is planned to coincide with (we hope) the fall coast planting for a field tour. The plenary session will look at uncertainty and business risk in the seedling production and planting cycle. A similar session is planned later for the Interior during the fall seedling lift at a location to be decided in the Okanagan.