In 2017, British Columbia experienced the worst wildfire season in recorded history. More than 1.2 million hectares burned to varying degrees, and more than 65,000 people were displaced. Although it was not in an evacuation zone, we closed our Vavenby mill temporarily in July so employees and contractors could focus on their personal safety and get ready in case they were forced to leave their homes.
While a changing climate is contributing to the number and severity of wildfires, there are other factors such as the fact the BC Wildfire Service has aggressively fought and controlled fires for more than 100 years now, and several government policies and regulations, in response to public concerns around air quality, have discouraged prescribed, or controlled, burning. All of this has led to a buildup of fuel, and is contributing to increased wildfire severity and intensity. Prescribed burning is one of the tools forest professionals can use to achieve land management objectives, such as enhancing habitat, or to reduce fuel loads. The size and intensity of a prescribed burn is carefully planned and controlled.
Our foresters are working with staff from the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to identify opportunities for wildland-urban interface logging around four East Kootenay communities. A wildland-urban interface is the transition zone between the forest and human development – communities near a forest face a greater risk from wildfire.
We held public meetings in each community to explain the details of the planned interface treatment, its benefits to wildfire control, and how we would protect public safety during harvesting. Initially, public reception was mixed and while the massive wildfires in 2017 altered public perception, there were still a lot of concerns. When we showed how we planned to manage the treatments to protect the extensive recreational, biological and aesthetics values in these areas, the meetings became more positive. Now that operations have commenced, many people have commented that they were impressed with the prescription and the attention to detail during logging operations.
Through our wildland urban interface treatment, we create a shaded fuel break with enough overstory to minimize brush and understory growth, while maintaining enough space between the trees to ensure a crown fire could not be sustained.