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Wildfire safety update

The Kimberley Nature Park Society has expanded its Interface Fire Committee to work with a group of experts who are planning a significant new logging and thinning initiative to protect the city and its forest to the west from wildfire events.

Machinery used on Sunflower Hill

Over the past decade and a half, fire mitigation measures in the Nature Park have mostly involved falling and burning fuels in small blocks, with some additional machine logging and some limited prescribed burning. While this approach will continue to be used, the scale and timeframe of the new initiative will require substantially more machine logging.

The current plan is to machine-thin a massive area from the Nature Park to Matthew Creek and then to maintain this area in perpetuity through scheduled prescribed burns. The province is working with Canfor to ensure that the effort is financially viable, and that no trade or forest practice regulations (other than restocking) will be compromised. Canfor had initially proposed logging two blocks in the Nature Park, but this has changed to one block predominantly in the southwest corner of the park.

The new logging effort will be geared toward creating a “shaded fuel-break,” with crown spacing between each tree of approximately three meters. The trees to be left behind include the more fire-tolerant species of western larch, Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and all broadleaf (deciduous) trees.

Prescribed burning in 2008

Comprised of seven directors and our former president, the KNPS Interface Fire Committee will work with a group of fire ecologists, provincial wildfire and forestry experts, the city’s fire chief and Canfor to ensure our concerns are heard and to have a voice in how the thinning operations are conducted.

KNPS volunteers have been walking the proposed cut blocks looking for wildlife trees to flag, assessing riparian boundaries, and noting any issues with placement of skid roads and landings. We are in regular contact with the Canfor lead forester, and we’ve been assured that cutting activities will take place in winter so that snow and frozen ground will help to protect the forest floor from heavy equipment tracks.

To be clear, the KNPS is in favour of the actions being taken to protect the city and its surrounding forest from wildfire. Machine logging would not be our first choice, but the costs and slow pace of hand cutting just don’t line up with the scale of what is required.

Fire suppression actions over the last century or more have created an unnatural forest composition leading to increased risk of wildfire for our community. Research about the effects of climate change on forests and fire behaviour indicate that more robust fire mitigation measures need to be taken than even 10 years ago. Following an analysis and review of the terrible fire season of 2003 and subsequent studies, the province has decided that large-scale actions need to be taken to better protect the city, and that a team approach will work best.

The planning process is ongoing, and changes may yet happen, but if COVID-19 does not impair the schedule the logging should happen in winter 2020/2021. The forest thinning actions will retain large and deciduous trees that would typically have been more likely to survive natural fire cycles. We will all have to get used to the new look.

In this hand-enhanced diagram, the cut block is pink, riparian and other leave-tree areas are marked in green, temporary access roads are in orange or red, and the proposed landings are the red circles.

Fire mitigation activity in the Nature Park within the last year or so includes falling and burning along the slopes of Romantic Ridge, along the slopes above Army Road from Richardson’s Sidehill to Higgins Road, and on the north slopes of Myrtle Mountain above Duck Pond trail. In some cases, more burning needs to be done when conditions permit. Prescribed burning that will occur on the slopes above Army Road and that involve the Nordic Centre has been put off until at least this fall, mostly due to limitations with the pandemic.

The long, narrow block outlined in orange (above) is slated for thinning and burning in the near term. The block runs from the northeast where Mountain Mine Road meets SW Passage to the southwest over high ground and past “Bump” Mountain. The orange dashed line ending near the black circle at the view point on Myrtle Mountain is SW Passage. Please note that SW Passage is not shown in its current form because a major reroute (not shown) was built about seven years ago.

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