Plans to remove hazardous fuels south of Burns Lake were delayed due to environmental considerations, but work is now underway, according to the Burns Lake Community Forest (Comfor).
Comfor had hoped to start the project on Oct. 15, but the excessive fall moisture and lack of frost or significant snow depth meant conditions for harvest operations, which take into account environmental considerations such as soil disturbance, were not ideal, said Comfor’s General Manager Frank Varga.
“We have had so much rain here in the fall that all the ground soil is quite saturated,” he said.
The multi-phase project, which includes harvesting partial and clear-cut areas and prescribed burning, is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020, said Varga, adding the entire project is expected to cost between $7 million and $8 million and will be funded through Comfor’s annual log sales.
The planned move on fuel mitigation follows the issuing in May of a report by forestry consultants B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ldt. The report found that most of Comfor’s land contains too much fuel, with 63 per cent of the landscape composed of hazardous fuel types.
The report also considered measures for reducing risks associated with mountain pine beetle, climate change and long-term fire suppression.
The dangers of excessive fuel have been a pressing concern for Burns Lake residents.
Last winter and spring, locals expressed their anxieties over the fuel problem in several public consultations held by the Chinook Community Forest. Meeting participants wanted to see more management in areas where logging is restricted but contain a significant amount of fuel.
Varga reiterated the significance of the problem last week.
“The extent of the dead pine surrounding our community is extensive,” he said. “Our ability to reduce the hazard by removing the dead and down fibre will go a long way. We are fully recognizing that it must be done, and so the Burns Lake Community Forest board is committed to seeing it come to fruition and be successful.”
The project’s success will also be measured in other ways, including wood fibre utilization and local employment, he said.
“We are going through a period of significant uncertainty in our sector. We are exploring any and all avenues to have every possible piece of fibre go to a facility,” Varga said, adding Comfor has set up a dryland sort yard to help support fibre utilization.
—With files from Blair McBride