Cranbrook and Kimberley youth teamed up this year to help reduce wildfire risks in both communities. The outcomes of their findings will be used to implement strategies for future mitigation projects.
Wildsight’s Youth Climate Corps (YCC) crew recently participated in the wildfire mitigation project alongside wildland fire ecologist Robert Gray. Youth surveyed local forests that have received some form of treatment in the past, and focused on areas where possible fuel for wildfire have been cleared.
YCC surveyed over 600 plots, providing approximately 2,000 hectares worth of wildfire information. They gathered data near Gold Creek Forest Service Road, the Kimberley Nature Park and Shadow Mountain.
The work completed will help create more resilient forests with benefits for both people and wildlife, Wildsight reports.
“Historically, this type of open forest ecosystem would have been prevalent throughout the lower elevation areas surrounding Kimberley and Cranbrook,” Wildsight explained in a press release. “Low intensity fires sparked by natural causes or carried out by Indigenous people would have maintained this healthy condition. But decades of aggressive fire suppression practices have changed forests and accumulated much higher levels of wildfire risk, which is further multiplied by the climate emergency now facing us.”
Gray has worked with local forest professionals for decades in Cranbrook and Kimberley, performing fuel mitigation treatments on crown and municipal land - clearing brush and carrying out controlled burns.
Part of YCC’s work this year was determining what happens after the mitigation efforts have been completed. They endeavoured to gather on-the-ground information as part of this new project. The information will inform future controlled burns and which areas need more attention.
Tim Chapman, Wildsight Kimberley/Cranbrook YYC Coordinatior, explained that the treatments remove excess fuels in the form of coarse and woody debris on the forest floor and in the form of young trees and stunted/crowded ingress.
“The crew would establish a 30 metre transect on a random bearing at each plot point,” Chapman said. “Every five metres along that transect, they estimate the fuel load in kg/m3 of fine fuels such as grass and twigs, and coarser fuels such as pine cones and larger sticks and branches. These estimates were based on lab compiled images provided by Rob Gray.”
Chapman adds that the crew also collected information on slope and regeneration density. Regeneration being the natural regrowth of young trees after a mechanical removal.
“Bob uses this information to run several models that work to predict fire behaviour based on the characteristics of the available fuels on the forest floor and contained in regeneration,” said Chapman. “The goal for Bob is to develop a predictive model that can help more accurately inform when and where future fuel mitigation treatments need to take place given a particular set of circumstances, and how fire will behave given certain fuel availability and conditions. Often we want to maintain these treated areas with fire instead of further physical human fuel removal.”
Gray says that this is important work, of which there is no dedicated funding for currently.
“There is currently no program or funding in B.C. dedicated to assessing forest vegetation succession in previously treated areas. But this information is crucial for wildfire professionals to make efficient, economical, and effective decisions for managing wildfire risk into the future,” Gray said. “I’m very happy with this data. It has huge value, and I’m extremely thankful we were able to pull this project together, and that the crew collected all this information.”
Chapman says that it was a great learning opportunity for this chapter of YYC.
“We were incredibly fortunate to partner with Robert Gray on this project, and we hope to do similar work in the future,” said Chapman. “Along the way, this work has taught a group of young people about the importance of fire in shaping our local landscape. We were pleased to make wildland safety a priority project for the inaugural YCC crew here in the East Kootenay.”
Wildsight’s YCC program provides young adults with paid training and work skills while they complete climate-related projects.
The program was brought to Cranbrook and Kimberley in July of this year, after an inaugural season based in Nelson in 2020. There is second YCC season in the West Kootenay region that is currently underway.
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