B.C. Community Forests Take Action to Reduce Wildfire Risk

British Columbia – In the past few years, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC) has funded various project partners throughout the province with the primary objective to reduce wildfire risk. Many of these project partners, 25 in fact, have been community forests. This partnership has accounted for 53 projects valued at over $18 million of which $12.3 million was for wildfire risk reduction and $5.9 million for projects to reduce greenhouse gases, which have included enhanced fibre utilization and rehabilitating damaged forest stands.

“The Forest Enhancement Society of BC is a proven partner in delivering projects on the ground that protect people from wildfire risks and reduce emissions from slash pile burning,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “Along with the historic investments in Budget 2022 to transform the BC Wildfire Service into a year-round service and double funding for proactive wildfire prevention, the critical work of FESBC is helping build communities that are safer and more resilient to climate change.”

(R-L) Minister Conroy, MLA for Nelson-Creston Brittny Anderson, and FESBC Chair Jim Snetsinger inspect a FESBC-funded wildfire risk reduction treatment in the Harrop-Proctor Community Forest, where some of the biomass was used to make green energy. Photo Credit: FESBC

A community forest is a forestry operation owned and managed by a local government, community group, or First Nation for the benefit of the entire community. FESBC Executive Director, Steve Kozuki, pointed out why FESBC and community forests work well together. “We both want to create as many values as we can in our projects. We not only achieve the main objective of reducing wildfire risk, but we often create numerous additional co-benefits such as enhancing recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat, reducing greenhouse gases, and generating employment for local people.”

The BC Community Forest Association (BCCFA), which represents many of these community forests, has seen the good work from FESBC’s collaboration with community forests. Jennifer Gunter, Executive Director of the BCCFA, highlights the importance of the partnership between FESBC and community forests.

“Support from FESBC has been instrumental in the success of wildfire risk reduction projects. With funding from FESBC, many community forests have been able to take meaningful action to make their communities safer, and their forests more resilient,” said Gunter.

Last month, during the BCCFA’s 2022 Conference & AGM, the Association celebrated its 20th anniversary and the work being done by community forests. “We were able to celebrate community forestry and the outstanding work of our members throughout the province. Community forests are effective tools for ecosystem resilience and community economic development, and our members constantly raise the bar. Community forestry, however, is not without its challenges. We are grateful for the support of organizations like FESBC that join us in working on solutions together,” Gunter remarked.

During the conference, Kozuki joined Jennifer Gunter, UBC’s Dr. Lori Daniels, Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz, and Kea Rutherford in discussing the important work of wildfire risk reduction and its efficacy in a session moderated by Logan Lake Community Forest Manager, Randy Spyksma.

Lori and her team spoke about the large amount of backlog of wildfire risk reduction treatments that remains to be done in B.C. Despite the significant efforts in the last number of years, only about 20 per cent of the work has been done so far. Lori noted that while $18 billion has been spent on seismic building upgrades in B.C., only a small fraction of that amount has been spent on wildfire risk reduction. Kozuki thanked the many community forests that have stepped up to reduce wildfire risk and for doing it in a way that achieves not only a multitude of additional benefits but also earns social license from local citizens.

Nakusp and Area Community Forest (NACFOR), is an example of a community forest that has undertaken wildfire risk reduction work that has provided an added layer of protection to the community while also generating numerous co-benefits. With funding from FESBC, NACFOR took on a project with the goals of improving public safety and reducing the risk of catastrophic loss of infrastructure from future wildfires in areas with high-to-moderate wildfire risk. The project created a series of strategically placed fuel breaks surrounding the community of Nakusp to act as the last line of defence against an approaching wildfire. The FESBC-funded project provided increased opportunities for local contractors with local dollars staying within the community, giving a boost to the local economy.

“The benefits of such wildfire risk reduction work in community forests are widespread,” noted Gunter. “Community forests are often situated in the wildland-urban interface and are increasingly becoming leaders in protecting rural communities from the risk of high-severity fires. Not only has this work contributed to keeping communities safe but, in many cases, it strengthens relationships between Indigenous and rural communities and has resulted in local employment, ecosystem restoration, and wildlife habitat enhancement.”

A community forest in Creston undertook wildfire risk reduction work which also gave a boost to the local economy through increased employment opportunities, providing work to at least 15 Creston locals who were involved in the development, planning, and implementation phases of the project. The project itself treated over 120 hectares on Arrow Mountain and approximately 10,400 cubic metres (approximately 230 truckloads) were harvested from seven areas, removing mistletoe, infected larch, and unhealthy Douglas-fir. The resulting state of the forest, according to Daniel Gratton, Forest Manager of the Creston Community Forest, is now similar to what would have existed when wildfires frequented the area prior to the introduction of the fire suppression programs in the early 1900s.

Fire suppression efforts of the last 100 years have resulted in some forests near communities across B.C. becoming overmature and/or very dense, making them more susceptible to wildfire. Many times, these types of stands have less value to wildlife and are less desirable for recreation activities. FESBC-funded projects in community forests have not only reduced the wildfire risk to communities, but they have also improved wildlife habitat, created local employment opportunities, and increased recreation values like camping, hiking, and biking.

One such project to reduce wildfire risk to the community which was undertaken by the Kaslo & District Community Forest Society (KDCFS), led to additional wildlife benefits that some people didn’t expect. An area resident, Doug Drain, whose house was adjacent to the forest area that was being treated, almost lost his house to a wildfire in 2012. This wildfire risk reduction treatment not only gave him peace of mind, but he said that opening up the forest had made a huge difference to the wildlife that live there. He has seen seven bears and two cubs as well as deer and elk that are back grazing in the area for the first time in many years.

This work was informed by a Landscape Level Wildfire Protection (LLWP) plan which KDCFS received a $50,000 grant from FESBC while Sabrina Mutterer and Jeff Reyden were co-managers of the community forest. According to Reyden, even though they both are from Kaslo, they hadn’t thought about the multi-level impacts of wildfires on the community or stakeholders involved until they started work on the LLWP.

The team started to plan for priorities focused on achieving immediate benefits in forest fire suppression and crew safety while outlining future fuel treatment projects and collaborating with the Regional District and BC Wildfire Service (BCWS). Engagement sessions involved discussions with BCWS and the local fire department to understand their needs in the event of a fire close to Kaslo, outlining what resources they had, what could be shared, what KDCFS could purchase, communications protocols, jurisdictional areas of who would respond where, etc. Not only did the plan inform the work done near Drain’s property but KDCFS ended up purchasing three fire pumps, hoses, and an inflatable bladder to fight a fire if need be.

“Community forest agreements are unique forest tenures that give communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, the ability to manage local forests for local benefit. They are in it for the long term with a mandate to manage environmental, economic, social, and cultural values. Partnering with FESBC on projects that reduce the risk of wildfire while supporting community values and advancing climate action is a win-win for communities and the province. We have been building a network of practitioners across the province who understand how to integrate these concepts and the experts with FESBC are integral to this process,” noted Gunter, pointing to the expertise FESBC operations managers bring to projects.

According to Gunter, as forest policy in B.C. shifts to support an increase in Indigenous and community-led forestry with a focus on value rather than volume, the active role of community forests in the movement toward reconciliation and innovating to integrate multiple values on the landscape, becomes clearer.

“Throughout the province, community forests demonstrate their leadership in implementing an inspiring vision for forestry that allows local communities to manage local forests in ways that generate many benefits,” said Gunter. “Our hope is that the partnership between the BCCFA and FESBC will continue to provide ongoing support and opportunities for community forests in our province. Together we are making our forests and communities more resilient ecologically, economically, and socially.”

For an interview with FESBC contact:

Aleece Laird, Communications Liaison | communications@fesbc.ca | 250.574.0221

FESBC would like to gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the

Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests.

Reducing Wildfire Risk in Kaslo Increases Community Safety

Kaslo, B.C. – When the Kaslo & District Community Forest Society (KDCFS) first applied to obtain funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC), they knew of the long-term benefits their projects would bring, but little did they imagine the many additional and immediate benefits the funding would allow for.

Schroeder Creek fuel reduction and stand conversion project with the private residence in the background. Photo Credit – Sabrina Mutterer

FESBC funding of almost $185,000 went toward three projects; a Landscape Level Wildfire Protection Plan, Schroeder Creek Forest fuel reduction and stand conversion from hemlock to more fire and climate change resistant tree species of douglas fir and larch, and the Buchanan East Access hand treatment implementation to reduce a build-up of forest fibre in the area.

Through the Landscape Level Wildfire Protection Plan (LLWP), new roads to provide access for firefighters in the event of an emergency and fuel reduction projects were identified, which helped guide forest operations for almost three years. Through the implementation projects, KDCFS helped reduce the risk of wildfire not only for the community of Kaslo but for the property of a private landowner and the community of Schroeder Creek, all by reducing fuel loading in the forests close to them. Recreation values were also further increased in the Buchanan project, with a happy private landowner benefiting from the reduced fuel loading near their residence and driveway in the Schroeder project.

Gord Pratt, RPF, FESBC Senior Manager, said, “FESBC is very pleased we were able to assist the Kaslo & District Community Forest with their wildfire risk planning and treatments. This work contributed to reducing the wildfire risk to the Village of Kaslo and surrounding areas, plus providing local employment, and enhancing some of the important recreation features in the community forest.”

Of the three projects that KDCFS undertook with FESBC funding, the Schroeder Creek fuel reduction/stand conversion project, which was located next to the private land where the landowner’s house had almost burned down due to wildfire in 2012, made a substantial impact on the community, explained the manager of the community forest, Jeff Reyden, RPF.

“Schroeder Creek, which is 15 kilometres north of Kaslo, is where the private landowners almost lost their house because of a wildfire. Their driveway is one way in, one way out. Most of the area had over-dense, stagnant regen growth and a lot of forest fuel on the ground due to old high-grade logging,” explained Reyden. 

In the area, the forest had been logged in the 1970s and had regrown primarily with thick, immature hemlock. High winds in recent years had blown down many trees making the forest almost impassable on foot. In some areas, dead trees were piled nearly five feet tall.

Doug Drain and Helen Hird, the landowners, watched as the wildfire spread through the cedar stand on the steep slope of their property. While the wildfire was stopped before reaching the home through the efforts of the Kaslo Fire Department and BC Wildfire Services (BCWS), a delay in deployment or a shift in the direction of the wind could have had more devastating impacts. Since the wildfire in 2012, the site had become even more dangerous and susceptible to a potential wildfire.

Post-fire, the area was evaluated and designated as Extreme Fire Risk by BC Wildfire Service (BCWS). It was after this that Sabrina Mutterer and Jeff Reyden of the KDCFS applied for and received funding for fire mitigation in the area, including the Schroeder Creek community, for which Drain and Hird are thankful.

“Fire mitigation work has had a major effect on our lives, especially our peace of mind,” explained Drain. “Over the years we have lived here, we have feared what might happen with a tossed cigarette butt along the highway below us every summer, especially on long weekends. Watching the fire mitigation work, it was apparent that had a fire started, we had absolutely no hope of escaping alive. Fire mitigation does not mean fireproof, but at least now, with preparation, we have a fighting chance or at least a safe means of orderly retreat.”

The community forest divided the area into two treatment units (TU). TU1 was more mature timber with funding for post-harvest cleanup and pile/burn. TU2 was overly dense, skinny hemlock regen which was too small to fit on a logging truck, so the contractor skidded them (a process of pulling cut trees out of a forest using heavy machinery) to a burn pile. 

Connor Robertson, from Timber Ridge Contracting pictured piling debris.
Photo Credit – Kaslo and District Community Forest

“The FESBC funding allowed us to skid these trees and burn them concurrently with harvesting. If we had to do the harvesting first while piling the debris to be burned by another contractor, the piles would have been enormous, a potential fire hazard, and difficult to work around, costing the community forest and the grant funder significantly more time and money,” said Reyden.

The area will now be planted with fire-resistant species, with reduced stocking along the driveway, to provide a more fire-safe route back to the highway.

Drain noted that the project has also enhanced wildlife habitat. “Opening up the forest has made a huge difference to the wildlife that lives here. Spring now brings a huge crop of sweet clover just about when the bears wake up. This year we had seven bears and two cubs contentedly grazing on clover for a few weeks. We have deer and elk that were never here before as there was nothing to eat,” adding that most creatures seem to be thriving post-treatment.

The work also brought employment opportunities to local contractors. Shane McKinnon, owner-operator of Timber Ridge Contracting Ltd., pointed out that the work KDCFS was doing meant a steady stream of work for his company that allowed him to add two full-time employees, as well as hire local logging truck operators. He believes the work done by KDCFS was important for the community.

“Right now, we have options and time to plan our harvesting areas and access, and we need to take advantage of this because when there’s a fire close to our community, the planning has to happen fast. Creating access around our community is important for response times, and the work KDCFS is doing is vital,” said McKinnon.

The need for creating access was highlighted recently when a wildfire broke out near Kaslo just last month. Reyden, who got an opportunity to fly with the BCWS to assess the fire situation, noted that it was a little unnerving to see how fast and far the fire spread in one evening.

“When we see fire close to our community, people want to see bombers and choppers, but due to the terrain and the way the fire was burning these actions wouldn’t have been as effective as hoped. It’s a bit of a wake-up call in that fire can affect any community and can spread rapidly under the right conditions, and the best way to fight forest fires is by having access to enable crews to action the fire,” Reyden noted.

Minister of Forests, Katrine Conroy, understands the importance of this proactive work and is pleased to see the efforts put forth by the KDCFS in collaboration with so many community members.

We have a shared responsibility to help build communities that are resilient to the impact of wildfire and climate change,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “That’s why we invested an additional $25 million through FESBC this year so that local governments, Indigenous communities, and rural communities can deliver projects that lower the risk of wildfires and the damage they can cause. The proactive work they are undertaking is alongside historic investments in Budget 2022 to transform the BC Wildfire Service into a year-round service. Our shared efforts will ensure a safer and more resilient future for all British Columbians.”

“Kaslo residents have lived with fire for over a hundred years, with old pictures of Kaslo from the turn of the century showing barren, treeless hillsides as they had all been burned,” added Reyden. “Having access to fight a forest fire is crucial, as well as a coordinated effort between stakeholders to effectively fight the fire. The funding from FESBC has been essential in getting started on these efforts.”

For an interview with FESBC contact: 

Aleece Laird, Communications Liaison | communications@fesbc.ca | 250.574.0221 

For an interview Kaslo and District Community Forest Society contact: 

Jeff Reyden, RPF, Manager | manager@kaslocommunityforest.org | 250.354.9803

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