The East Churn Big horn sheep corridor was treated in August 2016.

The East Churn Big horn sheep corridor was treated in August 2016.

Cariboo Chilcotin grasslands being restored

Covering less than one per cent of B.C., native grasslands are home to the highest diversity of at-risk plant and animal species.

  • Sep. 8, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Erin Robinson

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

Covering less than one per cent of B.C., native grasslands are home to the highest diversity of at-risk plant and animal species.

The grassland ecosystems of our province have been negatively impacted by wildfire suppression combined with a continued absence of prescribed fire.

The lack of fire leads to the encroachment of trees onto grasslands as well as excessive in-growth of trees in previously open forests.

Grasslands provide forage and browse for domestic cattle, elk, deer and California Bighorn sheep.

Restoration has economic benefits for ranching, forestry, hunting, guide-outfitting, tourism, recreation and First Nation and non-First Nation communities. Through ecosystem restoration management, controlled burning in areas close to communities mitigates wildfire risks.

All communities and First Nation governments are notified through the appropriate channels when burns are scheduled in their area or territory.

Ecosystem restoration contributes to the renewal of grasslands and open forests by manually removing or burning most of the small, thin-barked trees, and maintaining open forests with grassy under-stories that merge with native grasslands.

Through tree removal in the grasslands, catastrophic wildfire events are decreased due to the reduction in fuel-loading.

Ecosystem restoration protects against loss of First Nation values such as traditional use of culturally important plants, habitat in traditional hunting and trapping areas, protection of archaeological sites from severe wildfire, maintenance of traditional knowledge and cultural activities related to managed-fire.

Ecosystem restoration provides many economic, social and cultural benefits such as:

• Recognition of managed fire as an inherent First Nation land use technique;

• Reduction of excessive fuel loads to lessen catastrophic wildfires;

• Improved air quality by managing emissions through prescribed fire opposed to emissions resulting from a wildfire potentially occurring during less favourable atmospheric conditions;

• Improved long-term timber harvest values through spacing over-dense stands while also providing a potential bioenergy source;

• Increased resilience of community watersheds to maintain potable water supplies;

• And improved recreational and aesthetic values.

In the Cariboo Chilcotin Region, Ecosystem Restoration treatments are made possible through the support of the Land Based Investment Strategy and through the collaboration of the Cariboo Chilcotin Ecosystem Restoration Steering Committee (CCERSC).

The committee is a co-operative initiative between First Nations and various stakeholders within the region and is made up of representatives from:

• Three First Nation language groups (Tsilhqot’in, Dakelh, Secwepemc);

• The Department of National Defense;

• Provincial Ministries;

• Four cattlemen’s groups (Cariboo-Chilcotin, Clinton, Quesnel and South Cariboo);

• Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society;

• BC Wildlife Federation;

• UBC Research Forest;

• Guide Outfitters Association;

• Nature Conservancy of Canada;

• Friends of Churn Creek;

• Grasslands Conservation Council.

The 2016-2017 ecosystem restoration in the region includes a combination of machine thinning and hand slashing, depending on the size and density of trees on site.

This work will potentially take place on: Williams Lake Community Forest, Esketemc Community Forest, Beechers Prairie, Big Creek, the Churn Creek Protected Area and community forests, mule-deer winter range sites and other sensitive habitats within the Cariboo Chilcotin Region.

Would you like to know more about ecosystem restoration in the Cariboo Chilcotin?  Please contact erobinson@fraserbasin.bc.ca

Erin Robinson is regional manager for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Fraser Basin Council.

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