Community Forest looking for approval to begin Wildfire prescription for town

Lynsey Kitching


The next step for the Community Forest (CF) and the Community Wildfire Protection Management Plan is to have Mayor and Council head out and as Duncan McKellar says, “touch the trees”.

McKellar is the CF operations manager, and he has been working with the Ministry of Natural Resources Operations Wildfire Management Branch, specifically Harry Offizier, to develop a new wildfire management plan for Tumbler Ridge.

The objective of the wildfire plan is to ensure that in the case of a wildfire, the tree stands surrounding the town have been evaluated and thinned in a way where the fire would be forced to burn slower, thus giving people more time to put the fire out and keep the community safe.

The branch of government that aids in the rolling out of this program is the Provincial Fuel Management Working Group.

There are government grants available to cover about 90 percent of the project costs. The District would carry out the program, applying through the UBCM.

In and around Tumbler Ridge there are some areas that have been severely impacted by the pine beetles, and these dead trees that still stand or have fallen down, will add fuel to potential wildfires.

Currently the CF is looking for council to approve the wildfire prescription for the pond area. The pond area is located near the entrance of town from Chetwynd, and across and just down the road from the Monkman Commons development. The prescription notes, “The area is identified as a wildfire high-risk area near the town and is targeted for treatment to reduce the risk of a wildfire encroachment to town property and its citizens.”

It is a high-risk area because mountain pine beetles have infested the stand, killing 50 percent of the pine trees. This area is predominantly forested with pine, spruce and aspen. The basic prescription is to harvest cut the area with a forwarder, with the goal to retain the deciduous trees that are wind-firm. The area right around the pond will only have the dead pine removed for firewood. This area is to be established as a day use area. Thinning of branches is also planned for the entire area.

The reason McKellar thinks the project should get a move on is because the wood is constantly depreciating in value and the faster it is removed, the better.

Councillor McPherson and council remain uncertain due to the state of the initial wildfire management plan that left the area behind the Trend Mountain Hotel as a clear cut. He says, “That was our prevention and they made a mess of the place. That was four years ago and it still looks just as bad. It’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t be fire safe. Some people around here like trees. You said in Prince George they took out just the dead pine and the green trees were left. Is that something we can look at?”

Offizier says, “It’s something you can look at, but it is a bit trickier because the species that grow here. Usually where pine trees grow, spruce trees don’t do well because of the soils that they grow in. If you remove the pine in a stand, it is going to affect the wind and cause more movement in the stand. Where trees are stable, if you remove them, then they become unstable and have a high potential to blow over,” he continues, “It comes back to the professional. They have to make a decision from the knowledge in their profession as to what’s appropriate for this site.”

McKellar adds, “We’re not going to mow it all down, I don’t want to see a clear cut either.”

Mayor Wren points to the interests of the aesthetics of the area and what is acceptable and what isn’t in the eyes of the community. “You mentioned you put out a one page ad and got no response. It is disappointing but not surprising. The people who are here are the elected representatives. When we do it wrong, we hear loud and clear what’s wrong. That area [by Trend hotel] was done wrong, and it cannot happen again. If that means we have to leave some of the more mature spruce trees, than that is what we have to do. The type of prescription that was done there, I cannot support.”

The CF is hoping to do the work during the winter. McKellar explains it will take about three to four weeks to do the work, and the less snow the better for visibility of the trees.The decision has been pushed along to the next meeting of council.

McKellar says they are going to do the best they can to preserve the trees they can, as long as it is deemed safe.