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Fox Mountain fuel management reduces Williams Lake wildfire risk

Work is part of helping reduce fire hazard near community, but property owners also need to act

A multi-year project on Fox Mountain near homes and properties is helping to reduce wildfire hazard and create healthier forests.

The local Ministry of Forests has been managing the project, helping to oversee planning and contracts to complete the work to reduce accumulated forest fuels.

This means cleaning up dead wood and woody debris, removing some larger trees to space them, where possible, and removing brush, juvenile trees and lower branches.

These lower branches and smaller bushes and trees are called ladder fuels because they allow a fire to “climb” trees into the tops or crowns.

Much of the project work has involved hand-piling by contract crews and then burning or chipping and sending the chips for fibre, where physically and economically possible to do so.

“We would love to be able to utilize every stick out there,” said Kerri Howse, RPF, and land and resource manager for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Natural Resource District of the Ministry of Forests, noting they try hard to use as much as they can.

This work helps to ensure if wildfire does reach the treated area of forest, it would reduce the fire intensity in this section, helping keep the fire on the ground and potentially providing a point of defence for fire crews.

The fuel management work began last year, with more to take place. The area still to be completed will be treated in the fall and then fibre removed or burned the following winter.

Contract crews have been doing hand treatment for the majority of the project, which means no heavy machinery is used, due to many factors, including lack of access for larger machines in some areas due to steep slopes and private property or concern for sensitive areas.

The treatment areas are strips adjacent to residential areas, largely on the slopes above homes, as far west as Tower Crescent and as far East as White Road. These areas are challenging to not only access but also to manage for a range of values. Fox Mountain is home to mountain bike and hiking trails as well as a range of wildlife.

“So far [the crews] have done a really good job of meeting our objectives,” said Daniel Merth, RFT and a land and natural resource specialist with the Ministry of Forests.

Merth said really dry forest fuels and low snowfall meant some of the fires burned much deeper than would normally be expected. More remaining trees were impacted by the burning than intended, but conversely the crews were able to work through more of the winter and access the area more easily than they might have if there had been more snow.

The work is just one part of what will help ensure communities and people’s properties are more resistant to the potential impacts of wildfire.

“It’s mutually beneficial to the community and the forest,” explained Howse, noting the forest will be more resilient and it should be easier for property owners to protect their properties, especially if they have followed FireSmart principles.

The treatment areas are not intended to stop a raging wildfire, but they can provide a place to more effectively fight a fire if it comes close to the community and properties.

Howse said last year in West Kelowna, they saw how beneficial it can be for property owners to take FireSmart measures.

For the next three to five years, future priorities will be based on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and the specialized Wildland Urban Interface Wildfire Reduction Plan.

This plan was developed jointly by the Williams Lake First Nation, Ministry of Forests, and the community.

“We’re working hand in hand with all these projects,” said Howse.

These projects and the collaborative approach represent a real change in how the Ministry of Forests carries out work, as they attempt to manage for multiple values.

“We’re working with and for the community, but we’re also trying to make more resilient forests,” said Howse.

“It’s awesome to be a part of,” she added.

READ MORE: BC Wildfire crews on site of wildfire burning west of Merritt

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Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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