The 2018 wildfires burned down 75 per cent of the Cheslatta Community Forest. (Lakes District News file photo)

Cheslatta Carrier Nation undertakes fire rehabilitation south of Burns Lake

Receives a $1.25 million grant from FESBC for the project

Cheslatta Carrier Nation has received a grant of $1.25 million from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC) to rehabilitate tree stands damaged in the devastating 2018 wildfires.

“This is exactly the kind of project that our government is promoting because of the multiple values it addresses with respect to forest health, access to more fibre for businesses in Burns Lake, increase in employment in the forest that wouldn’t have been there otherwise, it reduces green house gas emissions from not having as much waste burned in the forest and it enhances wildlife habitat. It is really the kind of activity that we are really supporting through the funding to the FESBC,” said Doug Donaldson, the minister for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

In May 2020, Cheslatta Carrier Nation started working on this project on the south side of François Lake between Grassy Plains, Ootsa and Cheslatta Lakes, about 65 kilometres south of the Village of Burns Lake.

“They are rehabilitating forests that were damaged in fire in 2018. There are large areas in the Cheslatta territory that have been damaged by that wildfire and so they wanted to restore those forests to get them growing again. That’s what we call a stand rehabilitation project and that’s happening south of Burns Lake,” said the FESBC Executive Director Steve Kozuki.

The 2018 wildfires heavily impacted the Cheslatta Community Forest and rehabilitation of these fire-damaged stands will help restore some of that, as well as improve wildlife habitat in the heavily-impacted areas.

These treated areas will be reforested mainly with spruce seedlings.

“The wildfires of 2018 burned 75 per cent of the Cheslatta Community Forest and even more overall on the territory,” said Ben Wilson, forestry co-ordinator, Cheslatta Carrier Nation in a press release.

Cheslatta First Nation has also received funding through Forests for Tomorrow Program to remove younger damaged stands in which the first round of seedlings will be planted in 2021 Wilson told The Williams Lake Tribune in an interview.

“Because the fire burned the roots out, trees were starting to topple and you end up with another fire hazard on the land base, so it’s good to clean it up or start to clean it up.”

Several Cheslatta Carrier Nation members depend on forests to provide financial opportunities. When the wildfires of 2018 burned through the forest, logging had just begun in its harvest permit area but the wildfires resulted in an abrupt halt and a substantial loss of revenue. This project would serve not just to remove dead wood while making the forest safer, but would also help create and support local employment.

The project however is not just restricted to removing dead wood and reforestation, but also to finding sustainable solution to the residual fibre waste. Fire-damaged trees would be removed and put to use by turning them in to pellets, instead of burning the fibre. However, delivering this fibre can prove to be quite expensive. This is where the FESBC grant would come in to the picture, to help cover the costs of shipping the residual fibre to a pellet plant or a bio-energy facility.

“Lots of people around the world are very concerned about climate change and more importantly about taking action for climate change. Locals in the Burns Lake area are helping with the global fight to mitigate climate change. Instead of burning the residual fibre and emitting those green house gasses in to the atmosphere, we are using that wood to turn it into wood pellets,” said Kozuki.

About 25 per cent of the fire damaged trees will be utilized by the West Fraser —Fraser Lake Sawmill.

“The other 75 per cent of the wood, because it’s so fire damaged is going to Pinnacle Renewable Energy to make pellets in Burns Lake,” Wilson said.

– With files from Rebecca Dyok, The Williams Lake Tribune

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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