Kaslo set to begin wildfire risk reduction project in Village-owned forest

·5 min read

“Look at that stand,” says John Cathro, pointing to a group of knocked-over trees just off a forest trail near the Kaslo airstrip. The 30 or so trees caught up in the tangled, complicated tree-fall will take an expert logger to remove safely.

“You can’t just take a chainsaw course and start working on this,” the forestry consultant says. “It’s a mess.”

There are more fallen stands like that one in and around Kaslo these days, created by sudden, violent wind events that seem to be occurring more often. Those extreme weather events prompted Cathro, a forestry consultant working for the Village of Kaslo, to rework a proposed wildfire reduction project on the south side of the Village’s airstrip.

His proposal will go to Kaslo council for approval this week (Sept. 27)

Climate change prompts strategy change

Kaslo’s Wildfire Risk Reduction Program was launched three years ago when the RDCK and Village first developed a plan to reduce the risk of wildfire in a 150-hectare strip of land to the south and west of the airstrip. The project is essentially ‘firesmarting’ the forest, though it’s financed through a Union of BC Municipalities program unrelated to FireSmart Canada.

However, changes in funding, COVID, and extreme climate events put the implementation of the plan on hold until now. Earlier this month, the public was asked to weigh in on Cathro’s new, adjusted plan.

“When we developed the plan in 2018, we were going to do what we call a shaded fuel break… leave the big healthy trees, focus on cleaning up the understory of small trees and ladder and surface fuels,” says Cathro.

But several strong wind events led him to reconsider that approach.

“We’ve said rather than do what we call variable retention, and keeping the big trees across the whole unit, let’s change that and make patches of reserves where the trees aren’t blown down, and concentrate on where there are deep-rooted Douglas fir and larch trees…

“And where there is blowdown, take out all the hemlock, leave the big cedar, fir, larch and deciduous trees, so the goal is that it is more ‘wind-firm.’ Because we know with climate change we’re going to have more drought and hot summers, but also more extreme weather events including wind.”

Three choices

So the public were given three choices – stick with the original plan, which saw the whole area cleared out of most of the underbrush, and only the best trees left standing – or choose a new plan, which sees small patches of the forest cleared out thoroughly, leaving others mostly untouched.

A third option was ‘do nothing,’ which really isn’t an option these days. That would allow fuels to build up in the forest, making the wildfire risk worse.

Cathro says the adjusted plan would see about the same amount of wood removed from the area, just in a different way.

“We’re going to take out about a third to one-half of the volume, but the majority of that is small-diameter-sized trees,” says Cathro. “It’s about 2,000 cubic metres for the whole area.”

The project will also sell off the more valuable wood being cut, which will help raise some money to offset the $150,000 cost of the project. There may also be an option to sell some of the scrap wood for pulp to Celgar in Castlegar.

“We’d like to ship every single log possible from here,” he says. “By no means will the Village make any money from this, but we shouldn’t need more grant money to pay for it because of the current log prices in the market.”

‘People want action’

Cathro held public Zoom meetings on the plan, and offered up two trail walks to let people see the plan for themselves on the ground.

The Valley Voice reporter was only one of two members of the public at one of the field trips, and Cathro says the turnout hasn’t been enormous for the online consultation, either.

It may be ‘consultation fatigue,’ or that an out-of-sight project on the edge of town doesn’t draw much concern. But Kevin Smith, Kaslo’s assistant fire chief and FireSmart coordinator for Kaslo and Area D, says he thinks it’s also a sign that wildfire reduction has gained enormous public acceptance.

“People want action, and that action has to be taken on so many fronts,” says Smith, who’s spent the last four years developing a robust FireSmart program in town. “I think we can conclude the majority of people want the right thing done. They may not know what it is, but they will be relying on experts. The overall majority of community members have faith in those individuals, those leaders in the program to come up with some great solutions.”

Cathro is now drawing up his report to council, which should be presented at the next meeting September 21.

If council gives the go-ahead, he says work could begin as early as October, proceed until the snowfall, and wrap up in the spring.

Working group

But this project is only a small part of the overall job facing Kaslo. The perimeter of the town stretches several kilometres, and has a wide variety of stakeholders – from federal, provincial, municipal and private property owners, to First Nations, recreational and industrial users of the land.

A new working group has been established to try to better coordinate and support each stakeholder’s work.

The idea is to bring some coordination to all the FireSmart activity around town.

“As opposed to ‘here, this is my part of the land, I’m going to do this and you can do whatever you want,’” says Cathro. “The Village doesn’t want to influence what the Community Forest does, for example, but collectively we have a responsibility to communicate to the public that it doesn’t matter who is managing it, but we are following an overall plan and we all take it seriously, and we’re all in it together.

“The community needs to know their interests are taken into consideration, that wildfire is something we can collectively work together on, and we are going to be efficient and coordinated despite all the different jurisdictions in play.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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