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Wildfire mitigation in West Kootenay community forests having positive impact: report

The Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. cites work done in Kaslo and Nakusp
Nakusp and Area Community Forest is an example of a place benefitting from wildfire fuel mitigation. Photo: Nakusp and Area Community Forest

by Timothy Schafer

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

The last 100 years of fire suppression efforts in the province have resulted in some forests near communities becoming over mature and very dense, making them susceptible to wildfire, according to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.

“Many times, these types of stands have less value to wildlife and are less desirable for recreation activities,” read a new report released by the FESBC.

However, FESBC-funded projects in community forests — such as Naksup, Kaslo and Slocan Valley — have not only reduced the wildfire risk to communities, but also “improved wildlife habitat, created local employment opportunities, and increased recreation values like camping, hiking, and biking.”

In Kaslo, the Kaslo and District Community Forest Society (KDCFS) reducing wildfire risk in the forest created additional wildlife benefits that some people didn’t expect.

“An area resident, Doug Drain, whose house was adjacent to the forest area that was being treated, almost lost his house to a wildfire in 2012.

“This wildfire risk reduction treatment not only gave him peace of mind, but he said that opening up the forest had made a huge difference to the wildlife that live there,” the report noted.

This work was based on a Landscape Level Wildfire Protection (LLWP) plan that KDCFS received a $50,000 grant from FESBC while Sabrina Mutterer and Jeff Reyden were co-managers of the community forest.

According to Jennifer Gunter, BC Community Forest Association (BCCFA) executive director, as forest policy in B.C. shifts to support an increase in Indigenous and community-led forestry with a focus on value rather than volume, the active role of community forests in the movement toward reconciliation and innovating to integrate multiple values on the landscape, becomes clearer.

“Throughout the province, community forests demonstrate their leadership in implementing an inspiring vision for forestry that allows local communities to manage local forests in ways that generate many benefits,” said Gunter in a press release.

In the past few years, the FESBC has funded various project partners throughout the province with the primary objective to reduce wildfire risk.

Many of these project partners, 25 in fact, have been community forests. This partnership has accounted for 53 projects valued at over $18 million of which $12.3 million was for wildfire risk reduction and $5.9 million for projects to reduce greenhouse gases, which have included enhanced fibre utilization and rehabilitating damaged forest stands.

UBC’s Dr. Lori Daniels said there was a backlog of wildfire risk reduction treatments that remains to be done in B.C.

Despite the significant efforts in the last number of years, only about 20 per cent of the work has been done so far.

Daniels noted that while $18 billion has been spent on seismic building upgrades in B.C., only a small fraction of that amount has been spent on wildfire risk reduction.

Nakusp and Area Community Forest (NACFOR), is an example of a community forest that has undertaken wildfire risk reduction work that has provided an added layer of protection to the community while also generating numerous co- benefits, the FESBC report noted.

“With funding from FESBC, NACFOR took on a project with the goals of improving public safety and reducing the risk of catastrophic loss of infrastructure from future wildfires in areas with high-to-moderate wildfire risk.

“The project created a series of strategically placed fuel breaks surrounding the community of Nakusp to act as the last line of defence against an approaching wildfire.”