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Another phase takes place in wildfire protection in city’s watershed around Selous Creek

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
October 1st, 2022

Fuel modification continues in the Selous Creek area through the Selous Creek Wildfire Fuel Mitigation project, building an eyebrow of protection for Nelson through a three-metre wide no-tree zone.

A collaboration between the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) and Kalesnikoff Lumber Co. Ltd., the Selous Creek fuel management project begins again this month and is designed to reduce the risk of wildfire adjacent to Nelson and the threat to its secondary source of water, the Selous Creek water intake.

In reducing wildfire risk, the project will retain large and healthy fire-resistant trees but remove surface fuels and understory trees. This is expected to enhance “infrastructure protection for potential future suppression efforts.”

Started in 2017, the project consists of the following completed phases of treatment:

  • 65 hectares (ha.) of mechanical harvesting by Kalesnikoff Lumber Company;
  • 20 ha of mechanical fuel modification (debris piling);
  • 5.5 ha of understory hand treatment along The Vein bike trail and surrounding areas; and,
  • two ha of understory hand treatment along the Rail Trail.

 With the final stages of the project near, the following treatments will commence this autumn:

  • 5.5 ha of understory hand treatment along the Rail Trail;
  • 40 ha of machine-tethered fuel modification to create a debris-free guard around the outer perimeter of the harvested area and around reserve patches; and,
  • Prescribed burning — under the direction of BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) — this autumn and again next spring or autumn.

During operations the Rail Trail will have some restricted use during weekdays.

On the ground

Normally the visual quality objective (VQO) of retention prohibits any large-scale harvest in a place like the Selous Community Watershed, which is part of Nelson’s watershed along with Anderson and Five Mile Creek.

Drinking water is supplied to the city’s residents from three community watersheds, including Selous, Five Mile and Anderson creeks. Each one of the watersheds is physically separate but also share similar challenges and risks.

The project — supported through funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC — covers an area of approximately 65 hectares directly upslope from the Rail Trail on provincial Crown land. Prior to this, similar projects were completed in West Arm Provincial Park and Harrop Procter Community Forest.

Source protection plan

In 2021, the city developed the Five Mile Creek, Anderson Creek and Selous Creek Source Protection Plan, an 80-page document detailing the extent the city and its stakeholder partners — mainly BC Parks — were willing to go to protect the city’s watersheds.

The plan drew in the threads of the worst-case scenarios together in developing a proactive strategy for guardianship of the drinking water source for Nelsonites.

Research into the plan — with stakeholder partners BC Parks, several local recreational groups and logging companies — started in 2019 ended in 2020 and looked at the nature of the activities that go on in the watershed, as well as the quality of the watershed.

One of the key components of the plan was wildfire hazard and how to mitigate it in face of climate change and the ever-increasing threat of wildfire.

The plan was viewed as a necessity because of climate change, with wildfire, flooding and drought being key hazards affecting the watershed.

Within the region and the watershed, it has been predicted that there will be higher temperatures in the summer and winter, a net increase in precipitation (decreased summer precipitation, increased winter precipitation) and declining mountain snow packs with rain instead of snow.

Second time is the charm

Six years ago Kalesnikoff proposed the salvaging of dead timber in the Selous Creek area west of Nelson in order to suppress a Douglas-fir bark beetle infestation.

The wood needed to be removed in order to safeguard the city’s secondary drinking water source.

The company completed work on four cut blocks, with the intent of salvaging dead timber and to suppress the beetle population by harvesting currently infested timber.

The landscape operational fuel treatment was expected to reduce the risk of wildfire on a broader, linear level to protect the city by tying smaller, previously treated areas together, and creating a large new treatment area.

However, watersheds can be severely damaged by logging if not done selectively, increasing sedimentation which in turn affects water quality and necessitating expensive water treatment infrastructure that impacts residents and local governments.

But an application will be made to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource

Beetles, beetles everywhere

The problem in the watershed was first noticed in the Selous Creek area in the summer of 2016 by Kalesnikoff staff members, with FLNRO consulted and a suppression strategy developed by KLC.

Ministry overview flights in 2016 pointed toward beetle-killed forest occurring in new areas where stands had not previously been infested, with 2017 flights indicating roughly a threefold increase in populations over 2016 levels.

At the time, typical management tools included: trap trees; funnel traps; fall and burn; baiting; and salvage/sanitation harvest.

Post-harvest treatment

For this project the post-harvest mechanical fuel modification treatment has two objectives:

  • create a three metre wide, fuel-free buffer around the perimeter of the harvested areas, and around internal retention patches, and prepare for a prescribed broadcast burn;
  • rough bunch the fuels into piles and burn in areas where the B.C. Wildfire Service has identified as not being suitable for broadcast burning due to lower amounts of contiguous debris that remain on the site.

“In both scenarios, due to the steepness of the terrain in some areas, the machine will need to be tethered to a tie-back system and connected with a winch,” RDCK wildfire mitigation supervisor Angela French stated. “This system assists the machine to move up and down the slope to complete the modification treatments.”

The project can be considered somewhat of a fuel reduction treatment pilot project, said French, since this type of project has not been completed to this extent by any of the project partners before.

“Winch-assist machine capability is uncommon for logging contractors in the Kootenays, however, due to the amount of steep terrain that surrounds high-risk wildland urban interface communities, it is forecasted to become highly sought after in order to complete these types of landscape level wildfire mitigation treatments,” French wrote in her report.

Source: RDCK June agenda

Where there’s smoke

The project’s broadcast burning could negatively add to the smoky skies effect.

The effects of smoke during the fall and potentially spring when prescribed burning and pile burning is taking place.

“There is a very specific window in which the conditions are right for these controlled fires to persist,” said French, and it includes temperature, venting and curing.

“This project has been in the media since inception, which has enhanced the awareness of the public about the necessity for fire, and in turn smoke. With this increased awareness it is anticipated that the messaging around ‘good fire’ versus the consequence of suppressing fire, inevitably increasing the risk of uncontrolled wildfire and smoke, will be supported socially.”

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