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FOREST INK: Reduce forest fire loss by changing to more managed forests

More forest thinning is needed which involves removing trees
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for Black Press.

When we bought our place in 1978 overlooking Chimney Valley and the Fraser River, the untouched landscape was one of the features I appreciated the most and now, 45 years later, not much has changed except for an access road to deal with some beetle killed trees.

Very few logging blocks on Crown land are visible from the boundary of Williams Lake on Highway 20 until Becher’s Prairie which would indicate success at keeping logging out of sight along a major travel corridor.

We have spent a lot of time planning our logging so it had minimal impact on the view scape in contrast to the managed Scandinavian forests.

While we are still in the midst of another devastating wildfire year in B.C. those mature heavily loaded forests no longer have the same appeal to me especially when I see the fire statistics from Scandinavian forests.

In the more inhabited northern Europe, thanks to fire control, forest fires are rare, the percentage of forest land burnt annually being less than 0.05 per cent.

Finland is Europe’s most heavily forested country, with 75 per cent of its land area covered by forests. During the past three decades, the average number of forest fires has been about 1,000 fires annually, with an average burnt area of 0.5 ha per fire.

Longtime wildfire ecologist Robert Gray has been telling us for some time we need to make some changes to our forest practices including more thinning and prescribed burns at low fire intensity.

Some people in the forest industry are also promoting some changes to our harvesting practices.

Ian Kerr, owner of West Kootenays, B.C.-based AcreShakerr Contracting, thinks it is important to incentivize pre-commercial thinning, first and second pass thinning, and good stewardship.

An article in Canadian Forest Industry by Ellen Cools describes how Keer has been transitioning to smaller harvesting equipment that causes less damage during his commercial thinning operations.

His purchase of a F4 Dion forwarder from Michel Dion, based in St. Augustin-de-Martins, Quebec has allowed him to change everything in terms of not having to build any block roads or trails, or construct landings, and being able to have very dense tree retention without any residual damage.

“The forwarder on rubber tracks, very small – six feet wide, 28 feet long – can haul either cord wood or short logs (16- to 18-foot ) which meet cut-to-length requirements for local sawmills. The forwarder is so small it can move between trees easily. The F4 Dion has a rubber track with an iron cleat, similar to a snowcat, but smoother, with only one point of contact for traction. As a result, it’s very light on the ground and does not squash the root maps in the forest.”

Locally Ken Day has also been promoting changing our forest practices as described in a CBC article about a fire that started in the Alex Fraser Research Forest on the afternoon of July 7, 2017.

More forest thinning is needed which involves removing trees and other vegetation that is dead or slow-growing to make room for new trees and to remove wildfire fuel from the area.

He goes on to compare us with traditional European forestry practices. They often thin their forests twice when the forest is 15 years old or three times at age 30.

Sometimes, they even thin forests once more at age 60 and then, when the forest is 80 years old, harvest it. Each of those thinnings puts some fibre into the market as a means of improving the quality of the final harvest and recovering fibre in the interim while the stand is growing.

READ MORE: FOREST INK: Managing biodiversity in the P.G. Timber Sales Area

READ MORE: Wildfire risk reduction thanks to Cariboo forest enhancement projects

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