CANADA – Registered professional forester Bruce Morrow and Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR) chief Dean Schiavon are working hard to ensure that forests surrounding Sun Peaks and the structures that make up the town will continue to be protected in the event of a wildfire.
Forest fuel management is currently underway between the Sun Peaks Fire Hall and Sunburst Dr. as well as in the East Village near the golf course. Strategies to reduce the risk of forest fires include falling danger trees, spacing and pruning of understorey trees, and burning or chipping the created debris. Fire fuel management will continue until there is too much snow for the work to continue.
“This is conducted to change the structure of the forest to lower wildfire intensities, reduce the chance of crown fires, and make wildfire suppression safer and more effective,” explained Morrow.
On top of reducing forest fire risk, Morrow said they are concerned about the biodiversity of the forest and want to increase forest resilience.
“Making sure all the native plants on site are retained after treatment (is important). The more open stands have a better chance of surviving in a local wildfire instead of it all just burning and dying.”
The FireSmart program was added to the revised Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in December of last year. It helps reduce the fire risk of structures in Sun Peaks through education, and initiatives that include the reduction of bark mulch and coniferous trees and shrubs adjacent to buildings.
“Cedars and juniper are the most volatile commonly used plants to avoid,” said Morrow.
According to Schiavon, the FireSmart program work has been progressing this year even with setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and property stratas have expressed increased interest in the program. Local stratas are provided with preliminary recommendations from SPFR ahead of official FireSmart assessment reports which identify hazards around individual stratas. Their board then comes up with an action plan to start work on the recommendations.
Stratas already involved have made large advancements in reducing fire risk by thinning some of the trees and bush within close proximity to the buildings.
Schiavon said SPFR fire prevention officer Martin McQuade organized a successful road side chipping event this summer.
“The August event saw close to 14,000 pounds of chipped debris taken off the mountain,” he explained.
In addition, SPFR’s grant application for the 20201 Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) was recently backed by the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality council. It’s a provincial program intended to reduce the risk and impact of wildfire communities through funding of community based FireSmart planning, education initiatives, and activities as well as further forest fire fuel management practices on provincial crown land.
If approved by the province, Sun Peaks would receive $190,780 which would cover up to 100 per cent of costs associated with wildfire risk reduction projects such as those mentioned above.
Although fuel mitigation practices are ongoing and evolving in the community, there is a heightened sense of urgency for these practices with the ongoing climate crisis, Morrow explained.
“Climate change is causing more extreme weather including more drought and higher temperatures as time goes on. This stresses the local forest ecosystems, making forest pests and other forest health challenges more common. Our forests need our help to stay healthy. This is best conducted through forest fuel management around communities.”