The Nechako watershed, a vast area of sub-basins, rivers and creeks spreading approximately from Fraser Lake to Prince George, faces challenges from climate change, according to the Nechako Watershed Roundtable. (Lakes District News file photo)

The Nechako watershed, a vast area of sub-basins, rivers and creeks spreading approximately from Fraser Lake to Prince George, faces challenges from climate change, according to the Nechako Watershed Roundtable. (Lakes District News file photo)

Climate change affects Nechako watershed, worsens fires, group says

The Nechako watershed is feeling the effects of more intense widlfires and climate change, according to the third annual meeting of the Nechako Watershed Roundtable (NWR).

The NWR, an advisory organization seeking to preserve the health of the Nechako watershed of northern British Columbia, recently released a summary of its latest findings following last summer’s wildfires.

The findings were discussed at the NWR’s latest forum in November at Nautley, on the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation.

Some 40 people attended, who included First Nations representatives, scientists, and fire experts, Brian Frenkel, NWR’s co-chair told Lakes District News.

As the host of the event, Chief Larry Nooski of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation spoke about how his people managed to protect their homes despite having limited firefighting resources. The chief thanked some RCMP, Red Cross and fire crew members for their help last summer. He noted that the Nadleh Whut’en people could use local knowledge to fight the blazes.

However, he stressed that more funding is needed for First Nation emergency response preparedness.

Nooski called for the implementation of the Abbot and Chapman report, released earlier this year, which issued recommendations on how to better cope with floods and wildfires.

READ MORE: Flood and wildfire report contains 108 recommendations for government

The meeting also heard from John DeGagne, a stewardship officer with the The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (MFLNRORD) for the Stuart-Nechako Resource District.

Speaking about the Shovel Lake area, where some of the largest fires in the province raged last summer, DeGagne presented wildfire history of the area showing that the past decade has been the most intense in the past 90 years.

LOOK BACK: Shovel Lake fire near Burns Lake is the largest active fire in B.C.

He also pointed out that studies of vegetation types shows controlled burns took place every 10 years in the area before 1928.

A roundtable discussion following his presentation considered the possibility of starting controlled burns.

It was also discussed that Indigenous Elders have a lot of knowledge about the area’s natural history and they should be included in discussions of future forest management.

Hydrologist John Rex, with MFLNRORD in Omineca, spoke about the fires’ effects on the water systems of the Nechako watershed.

He explained that climate change has made the watershed warmer and has caused extreme weather like drought and floods to happen more often and one result is that harvested forest lands and young plantations have less ability to absorb water.

One possibility, he suggested, to reduce flash flooding is to leave timber in burned areas.

In the meeting’s conclusions, it was discussed that the NWR should be more involved in provincial-level planning when it comes to forestry, water sustainability and emergency management.

The forum needs stable funding to do viable work and needs to boost its visibility through social media and public outreach.

The NWR was launched on Oct. 21, 2016 at UNBC, with former B.C. lieutenant governor Judith Guichon and Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee among its founding members.

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