In his most-recent column David Zirnhelt continues discussing the impact of the wildfires on forestry and ranching. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

OPINION: Impacts and recovery from the 2017 fires

Columnist David Zirnhelt continues his discussion on the area’s recovery from the summer’s wildfires

David ZIRNHELT

Special to the Tribune

In my last article, dealing with drought and the cost/benefit of cover crops, I completely missed that one of the key authors and editors of the recent Organic Field Crops (A Practical Skills Handbook) was a person originally from Williams Lake: Laura Telford.

She now lives and works in rural Manitoba for the provincial government as a specialist in the development of the organic agriculture sector.

Good for her. I wish she were here in the Cariboo as part of the knowledge infrastructure in our agriculture region.

On to the subject of the fires.

This week the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition (CCBAC – soon to be phased out) held a symposium on Land and Resources.

Topics were: fire and its management, timber supply, ranching and agriculture, forest health, water and hydrology, First Nations government roles, fish, wildlife and habitats. It was a great overview of the current situation we are in here.

A number of related initiatives were identified which might benefit from co-ordination: First Nations meetings with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development; the Cariboo Regional Districts meetings on the recent fires; The Rural Development Initiative; Recovery Management and a meeting on Water Management (Fraser Basin Management Board).

We might add the ongoing Cariboo Strong community Economic Development Planning.

What is clear is that governments are initiating several things but there does not seem to be a locally (regional) generated co-ordination mechanism that involves community and government. There will be a report coming out from the CCBAC.

Following here, is some of the interesting information put out by the panelists.

This winter the Forest Analysis Branch will be surveying fire impacts.

The Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plan (CCLUP) did not incorporate large-scale fire and pest disturbances, yet it governs the uses of the natural resources.

The plan is part of the Law of the Land. It is legislated, as it was requested by the 600 or so participants in the long-term planning in the mid 90s.

First Nations peoples were not really engaged in the development of the CCLUP, so it really is a non-aboriginal people’s plan.

There is a huge amount of fuel between the Plateau fire and the Town of Quesnel.

Indirect costs of fire (additional to fighting the fire) vary from 2 per cent to 32 per cent of the actual firefighting costs, using data from fires elsewhere. On a $500 million cost (very low estimate) in B.C., this would be from 10 million to over 150 million in indirect costs.

The costs continue for about 10 years.

Many professionals such as health care professionals who evacuated just don’t return.

The fire season is a month longer now. Wetter winters means abundant herbaceous growth. Repeated burns on the same area help make the forest fire resistant. Bands of deciduous trees help stop fire.

Local knowledge needs to be captured long before the fire emergency.

Only 30 per cent of the burned timber will be recovered.

For the long term, a more diversified economy will help make us resilient. For communities to be really prepared we need better synergies between communities, the forest, ranching and other industries and the wildfire service.

A word on some of the impacts on ranching: more non-pregnant cows, lighter calves, more invasive plants, loss of good management because ranchers couldn’t be on the land on fire, soil erosion, large and numerous fireguards, increased accessibility for wild horses and hunters.

Some of the long term effects of fires on cattle are: health effects from smoke, stress, movement, predation. Predators move into the areas not on fire as do cattle.

Cordy Cox Ellis, President of the Cariboo Cattlemen’ Association, presented to the symposium on this topic more fully and capably.

I encourage you to seek out the final report from the Fraser Basin Council or CCBAC when it is prepared.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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