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Going above and beyond in wildfire risk reduction work

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
June 17th, 2023

A local community forest organization is developing a first in the province for strategic wildfire protection planning among tenure holders in B.C.

Under landscape-level planning, Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative (SIFCo) has undertaken “the art and science of developing land management plans” for tenured areas or areas the provincial government grants the rights to for harvesting timber.

Seven years ago SIFCo looked to Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) for money to implement a landscape-level strategic wildfire protection plan and, since then, SIFCo has received $2.25 million for wildfire mitigation work.

“We have made significant progress toward completing our ground-breaking plan which aims to mitigate wildfire risks and better protect the region,” said Stephan Martineau, manager of SIFCo, in a press release.  

The work undertaken by SIFCo through FESBC funding has created and been part of over 1,000 hectares of fuel-managed areas.

Part of the planning involved designating 12 specific areas (fuel management zones) in locations where fires could spread, using a tool called FlamMap, a desktop application also used by the U.S. Forest Service.

The technology allowed SIFCo to simulate fires, providing an understanding of fire dynamics based on specified conditions such as aspect, slope, moisture content, temperature and wind speed.

Through the technology, SIFCo focused treatment zones in areas where wildfires were more likely to travel and where treatments could reduce wildfire behaviours.

The fuel management zones separate forest from infrastructure and can cover hundreds of hectares.

In addition, SIFCo is employing wildland urban interface re-treatment.

“Now that we have created these 12 strategic fuel mitigation zones, we need to maintain them,” said Martineau.

Meaning setting aside a budget to implement maintenance re-treatments seven to 10 years after the initial treatment, managing small coniferous regeneration, and ensuring cost-effective fuel management while preserving previous investments.

Re-treatment has cost an average of 15 per cent of what the initial investment was, said Martineau.

Starting with SIFCo

The financial support of the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) helped the formation of SIFCo — as well as the community’s desire for local control of area forests — and when community forest licenses became available, SIFCo came into being.

After obtaining approval for its Forest Stewardship Plan in January 2009, SIFCo signed a 25-year community forest agreement with the Province in December 2011.

“As we increasingly face the impacts of a changing climate, we must take a proactive approach to managing wildfire risk,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests, in a press release. “Supporting the organizations who are leading this work … is crucial in making the fight against wildfires a year-round, dedicated activity.”

Source: Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.

Leveling the playing field

Landscape-level planning integrates fire risks into resource management decisions, with admission of the role of wildfires in the ecosystem.

Drawing from landscape ecology— which examines the flow of life, materials, and energy in landscapes — strategic options like fuel reduction, strategic fuel breaks and resilient forest types are considered.

Understanding how people shape landscapes and recognizing the significance of wildfires in managing forests helps form communities resilient to fire, said Martineau.

“With climate change predictions pointing to a rise in wildfires, it’s crucial that we change the way fire spreads through the forest by reducing fuel loads now,” he said in the release.

Climate change adaptation has been part of most SIFCo decisions, Martineau explained.

“We try to foresee where we will need to be 10 to 20 years from now, and then we implement — both as an organization and in our relationship with the land base we steward,” he said.

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