Going Above and Beyond in Wildfire Risk Reduction Work

Slocan Valley, B.C. – in a world increasingly threatened by wildfires and climate change, a forest cooperative has taken proactive measures to safeguard its community and surrounding natural resources. The Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative (SIFCo) embarked on the journey of wildfire risk reduction long before this work came on the general public’s radar, emphasizing the urgency of addressing this pressing issue proactively. Today, with the invaluable financial support of the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC), the forestry cooperative has made significant strides toward reducing wildfire risk, climate change adaptation and setting a remarkable example for others.

SIFCo was formed from the local community’s long-standing aspiration for local control of area forests. In response to the availability of Community Forest Licenses, SIFCo seized the opportunity and has been guided by the principles of embracing diverse perspectives and value systems of residents in relation to forestry. After obtaining approval for its Forest Stewardship Plan in January 2009, SIFCo solidified its commitment by signing a 25-year Community Forest Agreement with the Province of British Columbia 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. “Supporting the organizations who are leading this work like the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative is crucial in making the fight against wildfires a year-round, dedicated activity. The Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative has committed years to mitigating wildfire risk. With this support, they can continue to ensure our forests are resilient and our communities, homes and businesses are protected.”

SIFCo type 1 treatment – Wildland Urban Interface hand treatment crew for wildfire risk reduction

Early on, SIFCo realized the importance of landscape-level planning, which in SIFCo’s words is ‘the art and science of developing land management plans’ for tenured areas or areas the provincial government grants the rights to for harvesting timber, which included developing a first-of-its-kind Strategic Wildfire Protection Plan (SWPP) among tenure holders in B.C.  In 2017, SIFCo looked to FESBC for funding support to implement their Landscape-Level SWPP and since then, a total of $2.25 million has been granted from FESBC to SIFCo for wildfire mitigation work. 

According to Stephan Martineau, Manager of SIFCo, “We have made significant progress toward completing our ground-breaking plan which aims to mitigate wildfire risks and better protect the region’s cherished natural resources. FESBC’s support has been instrumental in our progress toward landscape-level wildfire mitigation, ecosystem enhancement, and climate change adaptation. Their commitment to our vision has eliminated obstacles and paved the way for a resilient future.”

The work undertaken by SIFCo through FESBC funding has essentially created and/or been part of creating over 1,000 hectares of fuel-managed areas, leaving behind a more resilient forest landscape and helping better safeguard both the community and the environment.

Part of the planning involved designating 12 specific areas called Fuel Management Zones in strategic locations along potential paths where fires could spread. These areas were identified using a tool called FlamMap, a desktop application also used by the US Forest Service.  FlamMap allowed SIFCo to input data and virtually simulate fires, providing a realistic understanding of fire dynamics based on specified conditions such as aspect, slope, moisture content, temperature, and wind speed. By harnessing this technology, SIFCo was able to strategically focus its treatment zones in areas where wildfires were more likely to travel and where treatments could reduce wildfire behaviours, ensuring effective wildfire mitigation and protection for the community and its surroundings.

These Fuel Management Zones act as anchor spaces that separate potential fuel sources from infrastructure and can cover hundreds of hectares, the zones are invaluable in the event of a wildfire. Within these zones, SIFCo uses four different approaches to manage the vegetation, including restoring the natural balance of the ecosystem through prescribed burns.

According to Martineau, landscape-level planning integrates fire risks into resource management decisions, acknowledging 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 human actions shape landscapes and recognizing the significance of wildfires in managing forests is also vital for creating communities resilient to fire,” stressed 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. This is the key to preserving the beautiful forests we cherish for generations to come. As a forestry cooperative, we believe it’s our duty to care for the land in a way that benefits us now and ensures a better future for all.”

A key part of the work undertaken by SIFCo is focused on climate change adaptation which SIFCo has wholeheartedly embraced, resulting in a comprehensive transformation of its forestry operations. Its unwavering commitment to this cause has made climate change adaptation the guiding principle in every aspect of its forestry endeavours. “We have been proactive in applying a holistic response to rapidly changing climate conditions in our bioregion. 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 — actions in the present that will prepare the ground for a resilient future,” explained Martineau.

SIFCo’s foresight has meant they are already implementing advanced forestry management practices including strategic Wildland Urban Interface re-treatment. “Now that we have created these 12 strategic Fuel Mitigation Zones, we need to maintain them,” says Martineau. This approach involves SIFCo setting aside a budget to implement maintenance re-treatments 7 to 10 years after the initial treatment, effectively managing small coniferous regeneration, and ensuring cost-effective fuel management while preserving previous investments. The good news is that re-treatment so far has cost an average of 15% of what the initial investment was.

“The lesson here is that the initial investment is critical, but once you have made it, the cost of maintaining the work is dramatically reduced. Very few companies have been at this for 15 years, so our data is very encouraging in terms of both industry and government investments in fuel mitigation,” concluded Martineau.

“It is impressive that SIFCo is already at this stage where they are proactively funding and implementing their own re-treatment program,” said Brian Watson, RPF, Operations Manager with FESBC. “Their efforts not only demonstrate a cost-effective strategy for community protection but also serve as an impressive demonstration of how a region can approach landscape-scale climate change adaptation and wildfire preparedness. The evolution of SIFCo’s exemplary work sets a valuable precedent for others implementing wildfire risk reduction programs throughout the province.”

FESBC would like to gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests.

100 Mile House Emergency Response Update

October 12, 2021 – A Message from Mayor and Council

I hope everyone had a healthy and happy Thanksgiving, after a summer of challenges we faced with wildfires, smoke, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  They had an impact on all of us in some way, and the District of 100 Mile House is no exception.   

Our staff worked tirelessly in the Emergency Operations Centre for most of the summer, putting in long hours under difficult conditions, with Covid protocols to follow, and constantly changing weather and fire behavior.  Daily briefings from BC Wildfire Service were crucial in ensuring we were prepared in case the fire became an even greater and more immediate threat.  The District has an Emergency Preparedness and Evacuation Plan, which thankfully was not needed to be actioned this summer for an evacuation.

On behalf of all of Council, I want to extend our sincere thanks to the fire fighters and support crews with the BC Wildfire Service, the RCMP, Search and Rescue, ESS, and all the many agencies who supported the wildfire effort and saw us through another difficult fire season.  I also want to acknowledge the logging community for their tireless efforts assisting the Wildfire Service with the various incidents in our region this past summer – the loggers provide an invaluable support service during fire season.

There’s no question, we fared better this time around, with no evacuation orders in town, but some of our CRD neighbours were not so lucky.  Also, while small, there were several fires in the Community Forest, which we are just in the process of assessing for the volume of burned timber.  Meantime, we can say with confidence that between the 2017 and the 2021 wildfire seasons, we have been preparing for future fire events by undertaking fuel mitigation projects, almost exclusively.

Thanks to funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC), three projects were funded which helped reduce wildfire risk in a few priority interface areas near residential neighbourhoods. 

Mitch Campsall, Mayor of 100 Mile House

These projects consisted of harvesting, tree thinning, pruning and reduction of fuel loading around 100 Mile House, Horse Lake and Lone Butte.  These and other projects are featured in a recent FESBC news item called: 120 Communities Throughout B.C. Reduce their Risk from Wildfire – Cariboo https://www.fesbc.ca/120-communities-throughout-b-c-reduce-their-risk-from-wildfire-cariboo/.  A link to 41 projects in the region includes our FESBC projects in 100 Mile House. 

“The District of 100 Mile House and the consultants hired to coordinate and administer these projects have done a great job to achieve the desired end result on the ground,” says Ray Raatz, Operations Manager, FESBC.  “I have visited the treatment sites several times over the duration of the project and seen the effort and diligence of the crews and machine operators doing the work.  This project has been innovative in maximizing the use of mechanical treatments, which reduces overall costs and allows more area to be treated.  The success of this project is due to the collaborative efforts of all the parties involved, and support from the people of 100 Mile House and area.”

These projects also contributed to fast actioning of the various wildfires that struck in the region in late June and early July.  Community Forest Manager, Bill Hadden notes that “wildfire crews were on-site much sooner than they otherwise would have been, thanks to the road access provided by these forestry projects.”   

FESBC funding was also secured for planning, layout and prescriptions for wildfire treatments in the Woodlot up at the 99 Mile Recreation Area.  Subsequently, the District accessed the Forest Employment Program to implement the prescriptions and undertake the wildfire fuel break adjacent to the 99 Mile trails and the railroad south of town.  Not only were local forestry crews kept employed throughout this project, but 100 Mile House itself was the beneficiary of improved protection brought about by the treatments.        

All these projects are nearing completion, with just the hand piled and machine piles left to burn this fall and winter.  Burning is expected to begin in early October and may continue into the winter, pending safe and favourable burning conditions, including venting indexes.  Google Earth images have recently been updated, and clearly show many of the treatment areas.   

Now to Covid.  Our local Covid cases have been spiking in the past few weeks.  With that, it’s time for us all to re-focus on overcoming this very real pandemic – and we all know how to do this: by following public health orders, making good decisions based on data, and doing our part to be safe, to stay safe, and to keep others safe.   Now more than ever, we need to keep up our sanitation protocols, physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing our hands.  But above all – get vaccinated.  We’ve come too far to get complacent now.

Let’s keep supporting our local businesses, and also local clubs and organizations.  Our sincere appreciation goes out to our healthcare and frontline workers.  Finally, I want to thank residents for staying calm and for trusting the agencies and plans in place are there to help ensure everyone’s safety – whether wildfire or Covid related.

This is our time to stay strong and stay committed to healthy behaviors that will bring our covid case rates back down.

We are stronger together.

Mayor Mitch Campsall

NEW! Watch The Video: B.C. Forestry Workers are Climate Change Heroes

Climate Change Heroes

Wildfire Risk Has Been Reduced to Protect a Kootenay “Jewel”

Greenwood, B.C. – a popular recreational area 20 minutes north of Greenwood is now safer for people thanks to a forestry initiative. A significant amount of burnable wood was removed, while also protecting some old growth trees, providing employment, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A 32-hectare area in the West Boundary Community Forest (WBCF) where the project work was done is situated by popular Jewel Lake. Thanks to a grant from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC) for $254,100, the project reduced amounts of flammable wood, which increased safety for residents and visitors in the event of a fire.

“This project has been very collaborative from the start,” said Ross Elliot, Director on the Board of the WBCF. “We have consulted with our First Nations partners from the Osoyoos Indian Band who did initial field visits and supplied crews to do some of the hand treatments. We have connected with leaders from the Jewel Lake Environmental Protection Society, BC Parks, and Vaagen Fibre Canada. This project has shown how when we engage various groups, we get some of the best ideas coming forward in how to work together. We are appreciative of FESBC for the grant which got this project going in the first place.”

The FESBC grant enabled wildfire risk reduction and, at the same time, assisted in using waste wood which otherwise would have been piled and burned. The outcome for locals and tourists alike is the opportunity to not only enjoy interpretive hiking trails, but also the added comfort knowing emergency services have increased access to the area.

“With the FESBC funding for this work, we are able to better protect area homes and recreational infrastructure from a catastrophic wildfire while maintaining the aesthetics across the landscape.”

Dan Macmaster, RPF, Forest Manager, West Boundary Community Forest

“We’ve gone through a challenging summer with wildfires in many parts of the province and close to home here in the Kootenays,” said Dan Macmaster, RPF, Forest Manager of the West Boundary Community Forest. “With the FESBC funding for this work, we are able to better protect area homes and recreational infrastructure from a catastrophic wildfire while maintaining the aesthetics across the landscape. The onerous task of removing fuels while preserving old growth trees would not have been possible without FESBC funding.”

Pleased with the level of collaboration and work that has been accomplished to date is Gord Pratt, RPF, Operations Manager, FESBC.

“The accumulation of flammable wood in the forest resulted in the Jewel Lake area being classified as a fire-susceptible-ecosystem. The build-up of fibre was due in part to decades of fire suppression activities in the area,” said Pratt. “The initial work to engage community stakeholders created the local support and understanding of the scope of work required to better protect communities from wildfires. The project has shown that wildfire risk reduction work coupled with community engagement can achieve positive win-win environmental and social benefits.”

The West Boundary Community Forest employs 100% of its contractors from rural communities, creating revenue for the local economy. Fibre removed from the project site will be hauled to the Midway Chipper yard with sawlogs sold to the local mills of Vaagen Fibre Canada and Interfor. Fibre that cannot be safely transported will be scattered on site at low density and logging debris unable to be hauled or spread will be put in a burn pile and disposed of this fall.

For an interview with FESBC, contact:
Aleece Laird, FESBC Communications Liaison | communications@fesbc.ca | 250.574.0221

For an interview with the West Boundary Community Forest, contact:
Dan Macmaster, West Boundary Community Forest Manager | dmacmaster@vaagen.ca | 250.528.0344

Community Forest Indicators 2021 – Measuring the Benefits of Community Forestry

Forest Enhancement Society of BC is proud to support the work of the BC Community Forest Association and has partnered with several members of the BCCFA. You can read about FESBC’s involvement in the BCCFA’s 2021 Community Forest Indicators Report , including a feature on the Wells Gray Community Forest Corporation Grinding Waste project (P.11).

From the BCCFA: “The Annual Community Forest Indicators Report is a window into community forestry in BC. Since 2014 the BCCFA has conducted an annual survey of its members to measure the benefits that community forests generate. Eighteen indicators provide tangible, quantitative information on the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits of community forests. The annual report shares the survey results along with many examples and firsthand stories.

The 2021 Community Forest Indicators Report is a detailed culmination of input from 30 community forests across BC on 18 indicators that reflect the multi-value management approach of community forests. The combined results from their last full operating year are evidence of the success and promise of community forestry.”

“As the province moves from a focus on volume to value and to an increase in the participation of First Nations and communities in the forest sector, community forests provide compelling examples of how this can be done.”

-Harley Wright, BCCFA President