Forest fires have been a significant factor in the Kimberley Nature Park for many centuries. Fire ecologists have studied historic fire patterns and determined that the area has long been subject to a mixed fire regime. Sometimes fires would burn at relatively low intensity on the ground, killing small trees while sparing the mature stems. At other times, when significant quantities of dead wood had accumulated on the forest floor and the smaller trees had grown tall enough to provide “ladders” for fire to climb into the mature canopy, entire stands of trees would be consumed.
For the past 100 years or so, humans have been actively suppressing forest fires in the East Kootenay region. In the Kimberley Nature Park, this has resulted in the development of a more crowded and dense forest with increased levels of shading and decreased moisture availability for the understory. With continued fire suppression, over time the forests in the nature park have become significantly less natural. Additionally, mountain pine beetles have been killing lodgepole pine, exacerbating the build-up of fuels on the forest floor. The result is an increased risk of severe wildfire, with serious implications for both the park and the adjacent community.
In 2005, the City of Kimberley hired fire ecologist Robert W. Gray to create an interface fire management plan for the community, including the park. Over the past decade, the Kimberley Nature Park Society (KNPS) has worked with the city and its consultants to remove ground fuels and thin crowded stands of trees to reduce the fire hazard and to restore a more natural, open forest. Techniques have included hand-falling, piling and burning, mechanized logging, prescribed burning, and machine mulching. Funding for this work has been provided by the provincial Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative and the City of Kimberley.
Most of the vegetation in the park, including trees, have unique adaptations that allow them to survive low-intensity fires or to quickly propagate following a severe fire. Some shrubs, such as snowbrush, and some trees, such as lodgepole pine, have seeds that are specially adapted to germinate after a fire. Other trees, such as western larch and ponderosa pine, have thick, fire-resistant bark that allows them to survive low-intensity fires. After a fire, many shrubs and grasses will re-sprout from the roots and grow with great vigour.
To learn more about the work that has been done to reduce the wildfire risk and restore more open, natural forest stands in the park you can read the below posts from our blog.