Wildfire Management Plan update

Trent Ernst

 

The Tumbler Ridge Community Forest and Silvicon Services were at the most recent council meeting to discuss updates to the town’s wildfire management plan.

Since the plan was originally created in 2006, a number of factors have changed, says Todd James from Silvicon. The town has a new official community plan and new zoning bylaws, there are new expansion plans, the original plans have changed, and the chance of wildfire has changed since the plan was created.

“The fuel dynamics have changed around your town,” says James. “As you are aware, the pine beetles have gone through this area dramatically. There are a lot of dead pine trees surrounding the town, and there’s a long horizontal continuity of this fuel type that can fuel a fire.”

He says the 2006 Hourglass Creek wildfire and the recent 2014 Red Deer creek wildfire highlight an obvious threat facing the District, and it is important to take a proactive and strategic approach to the management of forest fuels and the potential for fire in the wildland urban interface. This includes:

  1. Prescriptions for fuel treatment projects originate from within the interface area, but may extend beyond the boundaries of the local government.
  2. Preparation will be conducted in cooperation with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations and Fire Centre Fuel Management Specialist.
  3. Prescriptions for fuel treatment that will be undertaken are to be signed off by a Registered Professional Forester.
  4. Treatments will include measures to lower the Wildland Urban Interface Wildfire Threat Rating by lowering crown bulk density, reducing ladder fuels and decreasing surface fuel loadings.

James came to town last year and assessed 52 areas around the time, assessing the areas for their fire hazard. “I was looking at how much standing dead there was, versus alive, how much there is and structural organization, what the topography is and other issues.”

The proposed report highlights eight areas of unacceptable hazard within a 2km radius of the town of Tumbler Ridge. These areas have been identified and described for areas of high and extreme wildfire threat within the Wildland Urban Interface. The treatments are aimed at altering the fuel structure and composition to improve the management and control of a wildfire, should one occur.

Of those eight areas, three have been marked as extreme, says James. These areas of concern include: the south-westerly slope to the west of the golf course, the pine stand to the west and east of the golf course road, and pockets of timber to the east of the town, uphill of highway 52.

The fuel types in these areas are susceptible to fires of high intensity and rates of spread. The proximity to structures, slope and aspect were other key factors in rating these fuel types as High or Extreme. In some areas, for instance, there is a vibrant understory of Christmas-sized tree, creating ladder fuel concept. “This has the potential for fires to climb into canopy,” says James.

The Community Forest has already begun work on the area near the golf course road, and is looking for public input The 37 ha stand of mostly pine has a greater than 50 percent death rate due to the pine beetle. The plan is to harvest the pine for sale, keep whatever deciduous trees are on-site, and grind the tops and branches on-site.

The remaining high-risk area will be dealt with later. James says these are mostly farther away from town, or to the northeast of town; as the winds come primarily from the southwest, any fire in these areas will be driven away from town.

Outside of the eight areas of high risk, the majority of the areas around town are considered moderate fire hazard. James says this is within the acceptable range as defined by the UBCM.

James says that care needs to be taken to balance all the concerns for fire mitigation. “Nobody wants to see a kilometre-wide swath of clearcut around town,” he says. “But you need to reduce fire behavior factors. You need to reduce ability to get into canopy, and you need to reduce the amount of fuel. Something like a highway will arrest the spread of a surface fire, but it offer limited protection against large-scale crown fires.

One of the things that James observed while walking through the area was the number of quad trails and hiking trails around town. Most of these, he says, are down to the soil. “This creates breaks for ground fires, as these fuel-free areas hinders growth of surface fire.” He recommends that the town create a map of all these trails as part of its fire plan.

He also recommends replanting areas like along the golf course road with other types of trees. “It would not be smart to chip all the fuel, then replant the same type of trees. You should plant deciduous tree species.”

He recommends Aspen or possibly cottonwood. Other types of deciduous trees probably wouldn’t grow in these areas. “Statistically, this area is exposed to a changing climate, but that wouldn’t affect the aspen,” he says.

A final recommendation is for the District to aggressively promote FireSmart Landscaping to the community.