Community Forest wants to manage District’s Wildfire protection plan

Trent Ernst, Editor

While the idea has been discussed in principle in the past, on March 5, the Community Forest came out and said it directly: they want to manage Tumbler Ridge’s Wildfire Protection Plan.

The plan was created in 2006, after a series of fires devastated thousands of hectares of forest in the Rat Lake and Hourglass Lake areas, but initial efforts to create a firebreak left many citizens cold. A wide swath of trees was cut down and chipped, leaving what many considered an eyesore, right up to the edge of town.

Duncan McKellar, Forest Operations Manager for the Tumbler Ridge Community Forest Corp. says that a lot of things have changed over the last seven years since the plan was created. “There was no pine beetle. The district has expanded. Lumber price has gone up 100 percent. Wildfire descriptions have changed as well.”

He says as a forester, he would be reluctant to do work based on such an old plan. So he recommends that the plan be updated, which would cost about $20,000, about half of which would be covered by a grant.

“The surrounding forest of the town is now predominantly managed by the Community Forest,” says McKellar. “It wasn’t when the plan was written.”

More importantly, he says, the Community Forest would like to manage the prescribed cuts for the Fire Plan. “The town has put in $80,000 in order to cut these trees down and chip them,” says McKellar. “We can harvest this at a cost neutral, or even make some money for the District.”

McKellar says he is speaking about the larger fire breaks around the edge of town. There are other, smaller areas that need to be thinned or cut as part of this program, which wouldn’t be as easy to harvest, or are so small that they wouldn’t be financially viable. “The District can spend its grant money on these smaller, more difficult to access areas,” he says.

“One way or another, the District will have to deal with it,” says McKellar. “I suggest they deal with it now and make some money at it.”

He says there are added benefits to the Community Forest taking over the Wildfire Protection Plan. “With this program it’s just wildfire reduction,” he says. “The community forest can look at recreation and other options.”

He points to a small pond, located in the woods just south of the high school. If this area were just logged and chipped, it would have very little alternative value. But maybe there’s the possibility of creating a small campsite on the edge of the lake.

The town is considering the proposal, and will bring it forward at a meeting of council in the near future.