A new report from the Forest Practices Board (FPB) claims excessive fuel worsened last summer’s Shovel Lake Wildfire, and local foresters believe industry and policy changes could reduce future risks.
The FPB, an independent provincial forestry watchdog, said in an April 3 news release that “a member of a wildfire response team complained to the board in 2018 after seeing large amounts of logs and debris on the ground. He was concerned the material contributed to the spread and severity of the fire.”
The Shovel Lake Wildfire was one the largest fires in the region last summer. It grew to 12,000 hectares in size and spurred evacuation orders.
The FPB release quoted chairman Kevin Kriese as saying, “In areas like this with very high fuel levels caused by mountain pine beetle, logging will reduce the risk of fire over the long term. However, the investigation found that current requirements could be improved by reducing the time before abatement is required and reducing the amount of fuel that can be left behind.”
Commenting to Lakes District News on the FPB report, Ken Nielsen, Manager of the Chinook Community Forest acknowledged the problem of fuel on the ground.
“There is far too much fuel left on cut blocks. Unfortunately, the mighty dollar dictates on how much of this fuel we can remove. So, this could be help in pushing the province to hold the liability of broadcast burning of cut blocks.”
Fuel is a problem Nielsen has heard about many times, including at community meetings held in the Burns Lake area since February.
But removing extra fuel sometimes costs more than what companies can pay for taking it into pellet or biomass facilities, and chipping or grinding it up on site is too expensive, Nielsen explained.
That leaves burning up the fuel the only option, he said.
“From a policy point of view the province needs to pull its head out of its ass and take on the liability of broadcast burning of logging blocks. The industry is hampered enough with regulations. We don’t need more.”
“We live in a fire-based ecosystem, we have taken fire away from the land base as a management tool, need to bring it back.”
But Nielsen takes issue with the FPB report’s mention of reducing abatement time.
“I don’t agree with shortening the time requirements for hazard abatement, we live in a world where Mother Nature dictates when we can perform cerntain activities.”
Richard Vossen, woods manager with Babine Forest Products (BFP) agrees on the value of prescribed burning.
“We feel a long term strategy would be to see more prescribed burning on the landscape to help reduce slash loading. Additionally, there could be more incentives for industry to utilize more fibre from the landscape reducing fire hazard even further.”
He added that the company tries its best to send to the mills slash and fuel that could contribute to the spread of wildfires.
“Logs that are not shipped to Babine Forest Products or Decker Lake Forest Products are shipped to Pinnacle Pellet. This helps reduce slash accumulations, especially in stands heavily impacted by the mountain pine beetle.”
Vossen pointed out a paragraph in the FPB report that suggested some harvesters were still working when the was approaching.
“In some cases, the licensees were still actively logging when the fire swept through, so the decked logs and debris were consumed by the fire before the licensees had a chance to deal with the hazard,” the report said.
“The FPB,” Vossen said in response, “found that our cut blocks had hazard abatement completed on them and we were in compliance with the Forest Fire Suppression and Prevention Regulation. Our cut blocks did not contribute what so ever in the spread or intensity of the Shovel Lake Wildfire.”