The Burns Lake Community Forest’s (BL Comfor) 2020 season went pretty well, however for 2021, hurdles from the local district manager’s office might make things difficult, according to General Manager Frank Varga.
“I think it went pretty well. I mean we did have a very wet year, so we were definitely challenged and had to be shut down a few times because the conditions just didn’t give us the opportunity to continue carrying out the harvesting salvaging activities. But we fully took on the Wildfire Management (WFM) project’s WFM Area 1 and got through probably a good 50 per cent of harvesting activities that we wanted to,” he said.
The WFM Area 1 is the the area just south of Burns Lake. This area has been extensively impacted by Mountain Pine Beetle and has been blowing down as can be observed from town, said Varga. This area is 60-80 per cent dead pine leading.
“The project area is about 1152 hectares (ha), of which we have completed salvage operations to date on about 500ha. Of this 500ha we have completed hazard abatement piling, spacing and pruning to support landscape fire mitigation efforts. Unfortunately we were unable to complete all our operational activities in 2020 but we plan on coming back to the area in 2021 and finalize harvest operations followed by hazard abatement raking, piling and burning. Due to the lack of good weather window we were unable to complete our planned fall 2020 landscape prescribed burn. The plan is in place and ready for 2021 implementation,” said Varga.
However, the plan for WFM Area 2 which spans the Spud/Shack Tchesinkut Lake area and was expected to have already started for 2021, is at a standstill due to the ministry of forest’s regional district manager rescinding approval on the project.
“We had plans to commence phase 2 of landscape fire mitigation efforts (WFM2-Area) as contemplated by the Landscape Fire Mitigation Plan that was developed by B.A Blackwell and Associates, this fall and throughout 2021-2022. Burns Lake Community Forest invested well over $500,000 in planning, developing, and assessments including visual quality design, and grizzly bear habitat assessments. Unfortunately, the District Manager rescinded his commitments on supporting Burns Lake Community on constrain removal for the VQO,” said Varga.
The VQO that Varga mentions is a visual quality exemption that the BL Comfor had sought, to ensure that they legally have the permission to do a prescribed burn in the area. The community of Burns Lake is surrounded by hillsides, and those areas as part of the Land and Resource Management plan were identified as visual-quality polygons – areas where industrial activities needed to manage a certain visual value.
“Basically what happened is they restricted the intensity and the amount somebody could harvest on any particular hillside and they restricted it to a certain percentage that we were allowed to alter that landscape. That can work very well in a green forest where everything is green; so there it is very possible to do more extensive partial harvesting or removing only 50 per cent, 30 per cent or 20 per cent of trees – basically different alterations of percentages. The problem we are having is that the landscape around the community of Burns Lake is not all green, the only things green are the plantations; the forests that have been previously harvested. Everything else is either dead and/or dying. Primarily because there is so much pine in this area, and that’s the landscape,” said Varga.
The community forest was supposed to have started harvesting the area in the Fall of 2020 however that plan has now been put on hold and will only move forward after the district manager’s approval.
“Fire is essential on these ecosystems to promote new vegetation growth, promote new suckering of herbaceous vegetation that is critical to moose, critical for deer, bears; the fire creates breaks up the land-base and it is just a critical factor; I can’t emphasize enough how important fire is on the land-base. So for 2021, that was kind of the main focus, and as a result of not having that visual quality exemption being supported, I am not able to commence which is very disappointing,” he said.
The community forest is now hoping to implement WFM 1 Prescribed Burn Plan and associated activities, continue efforts of landscape fire treatments, have a full silviculture operational program of planting about 1.2 million seedlings, conduct a survey of about 2000ha of existing planted forest, commence implementation of Access Management Plan — specifically with further collaboration between the ATV and snowmobile club, continue work on community forest area assessment of streams with 2021 being the third year of this project, host their Annula General Meeting with a public open-house and BBQ and ensure attendance at Fall Fair — subject to this event being hosted in 2021.
The community forest board is also hoping to garner local support for the WFN Area 2 plan and hopes that the local district manager reconsiders visual quality exemption.
“Without these legal exceptions or exemptions, BL Comfor cannot proceed in implementing its landscape fire plan which supports our communities social and economically. Furthermore, BL Comfor will not be able to complete its ecosystem restoration activities of prescribed burning. The District Manager has essentially put the community of Burns Lake, and the community forest sustainability and its infrastructure at an elevated risk,” said Varga.