Multiple forest treatment projects are underway in 100 Mile House and the surrounding area to protect communities from future wildfires.
The Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) received $134 million from the province in April to disperse to areas impacted by the 2017 wildfires, $99 million was designated for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
Zanzibar Holdings, Ltd. has three current projects funded by the FESBC and the Forest Carbon Initiative: removing cones from Douglas Firs to increase seed inventory, surveying areas for replanting and increasing fuel breaks around communities.
“I was out on the fires, a bunch of us were out on the fires doing line locating and guard construction, so it’s great to go back and then be part of the reforestation as well,” said Bill Layton, one of the registered professional foresters working on the projects.
Layton said the available funding created a great opportunity.
Surveying projects have been ongoing since last fall, he said. Many of the burned areas would otherwise have been left alone because they don’t fall under any particular body or organization’s responsibility.
“A lot of them are 30-year-old plantations, for example, that have burned. They’re long past being anybody’s legal responsibility and so there’s no other mechanism to fund planting them.”
They are just one of the many organizations taking advantage of the available funding to step in and replant these areas.
Havesting Douglas Fir seeds is important, according to Layton, because its range is moving north as it adapts to climate change, “so we’re going to need more fir in the future than we are using right now.”
As for fuel breaks, he said many communities – like Big Bar and Lac la Hache – are vulnerable because they’re surrounded by mature Douglas Fir, “and we saw in the Elephant Hill fire how well that stuff burns in a dry year,” so greater breaks give the opportunity to slow a fire and keep it from residential areas.
When asked whether the projects are moving quickly enough to prepare communities for another fire season, Layton said, “You can throw a lot of money at something and if there’s not enough people and machines to get it done it’s questionable if you can even do it faster.”
Much of the reforestation work is done by people and equipment that are on the fires during the summer, he said.
“There’s always limits to how many people and how many machines there are available to do work, especially with all the fires. They kind of suck up resources like nobody’s business.”
Rob Martin, the land and resource planning specialist for the 100 Mile House District, said the district is working closely with teams who apply for funding to make sure projects are in line with the community’s goals and priorities.
“It’s all based on the fuel mitigation for areas close to communities.”
He clarified that increasing fuel breaks does not mean clear-cutting. That would require too much maintenance.
Instead, he said the goal is to thin out forests around communities by removing ladder fuels and creating a shaded fuel break to keep the forest floor moist.
“We never want a fire to be able to move up through and into the crown. As soon as the fire moves into the crown, then we can no longer use ground crews to fight a fire.”
Martin said not every project will be right for every community, since the Cariboo is filled with unique landscapes, but the district is monitoring what everyone is trying.
“It’s just too bad that it took a bad fire year to do it,” he added. “If this year hadn’t been a bad fire year again (although more province-wide) it’s surprising how many people will forget.”
Steve Kozuki, executive director of the FESBC, presented current projects to the Cariboo Regional District at its board meeting on Friday, Aug. 24.
He admitted he danced around the question when the CRD asked if $99 million would be enough to treat the amount of land burned in 2017 wildfires, but ultimately responded, “We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”
Some communities have yet to take advantage of the funding due to a “lack of awareness,” he said, adding that some of the forest thinning projects have been met with some pushback.
“People are concerned sometimes with fuel reduction treatments because they don’t want to see those areas harvested,” he said.
When asked whether forest thinning projects could cause an increase in mudslides, Kozuki said treating forests actually reduces the risk of mudslides.
“What we do, the effect is that when a fire does start it doesn’t burn as hot … it doesn’t sterilize the soil, it doesn’t necessarily kill all the trees, it’s a much lighter, lower intensity fire.”
He said he’s not surprised that rain in burned areas from last year’s wildfires, where only ash and mineral soil remain because the fire was so hot it incinerated everything, resulted in mudslides.
“When you do get a rain storm on a lightly burned area it generally wouldn’t result in a mudslide.”
Forest treatment project applications are approved on a first-come-first served basis, said Kozuki.
Communities wishing to take advantage of the available funding can go to fesbc.ca to learn which projects are eligible for funding and to complete an application.