VCF and Village take action to mitigate fire risks

Dianne St. Jean

On May 12 the Village of Valemount hosted an Emergency Planning Open House at the Community Hall.

Valemount Community Forest (VCF) was there, along with members of BC Wildfire Service. Part of VCF’s display included maps that show areas at high risk for wildfire in and around Valemount.

The risk of wildfire should still be fresh in our minds from last year when rampant flames blazed through our province, displacing large amounts of population, let alone the costs of property destruction and loss of land and fire-fighting expenses.

The push for communities to become better prepared for large-scale emergencies was in large part the result of the effects of those fires.

It was for that reason that the Emergency Planning Open House was organized – to show the public not only actions that can and need to be taken during an emergency situation, including wildfire, but also how these can be managed and in some cases even prevented.

Recently I accompanied President of VCF Ainslie Jackman on a walk-through of some of these areas of concern.

Talking about it or looking on a map is one thing – actually seeing it firsthand is another.

Jackman took me through forests with different ratings of fire hazard and explained why some are considered to be high or very high risk.

Risk is determined according to a forest’s  ‘fuel type’, based on the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System and fuel type attributes; in other words, how fire behaves in different types of conditions.

A good example of a very badly infected tree, demonstrating why mistletoe growth is often referred to as "witches broom". Not only does it stunt tree growth, it is a real fire hazard.
A good example of a very badly infected tree, demonstrating why mistletoe growth is often referred to as "witches broom". Not only does it stunt tree growth, it is a real fire hazard.
Dianne St. Jean photo
A well-managed forest floor needs some dead vegetation to provide nutrients to the soil, but parasite-infected trees need to be removed as they pose a risk to new growth and increase risk of fire.
A well-managed forest floor needs some dead vegetation to provide nutrients to the soil, but parasite-infected trees need to be removed as they pose a risk to new growth and increase risk of fire.
Dianne St. Jean photo

Fuel is a reference to the vegetation, especially the different types of trees and the condition of those trees.

According to the categorization, C2, C3, and C4 Fuel Types pose the highest fire hazard risk; they also happen to be the condition found in our local forests.

These forest types are dense and contain a lot of dead and dying trees (standing and fallen stems), young to mature pines ravaged by Mountain Pine Beetle and therefore dried up, and Lodgepole Pines infested with Dwarf Mistletoe that stunts the growth of the trees and results in deformation and unrestrained extra stem growth, some so profuse and long that they are referred to as “witches brooms”. These dry stems serve as extra easy fuel for fire and are also referred to as ‘ladder fuels’ because it is easy for fire to ‘climb’ from ground to treetops and therefore spread faster.

 

Valemount also is subject to wind, which would fan the flames and threaten the Village since the wind tends to blow in its direction.

VCF is in the process of consulting with other agencies to assess the risk and find solutions, including BC Wildfire Service, the Regional District, Village of Valemount, Crown Lands, BC Parks, BC Hydro, CN, and Simpcw FN.

Residents can also play a vital role in helping, especially by keeping their properties clean and free from too much dry debris and dead trees.

However, many residents in and around Valemount love the trees, and are quite protective of them, and some have concerns with VCF going in and clear-cutting sections of forest.

The issue was discussed during the last Village of Valemount meeting (June 26).

Councillor Peter Reimer commented that insurance companies are now pushing hard to make sure communities do their part to mitigate the risk of fire. In some cases, forest fire insurance can be denied if there is insufficient clearance within a certain range of distance.

“From an insurance perspective, trees are fuel for fire,” he says.

Councillor Owen Torgerson also responded to ideas that VCF is simply clear-cutting certain areas for profit.

“They [VCF] went in at a loss,” he says, stating that their reason to go into areas and clear is to mitigate and not for profit.

And, speaking of profit, both Jackman and Torgerson stated that demand for pine is at a premium right now as there is actually a shortage. It would therefore be beneficial to private landowners to clear their land, then, in more ways than one.

The role of VCF is to manage the forest, and cutting down trees is certainly not all that they do. New trees are planted in areas that have been cleared, and there are plans to introduce deciduous trees in areas where they will take. A mixed forest is at less risk of spreading fire.

Either way, as one takes a drive around the outskirts of Valemount, or heads out toward Tete Jaune, it is obvious that now is the time to do something, not when our firefighters are trying desperately to keep a rampant fire from reaching homes.

A close up of mistletoe growth on a 
pine stem.
A close up of mistletoe growth on a pine stem.
Dianne St. Jean photo
A tree stem showing how the mistletoe parasite causes stem deformation in its host.
A tree stem showing how the mistletoe parasite causes stem deformation in its host.
Dianne St. Jean photo