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Managing wildfire risks a high priority in Prince George's community forest
The city of Prince George—smack in the middle of Canada's largest softwood lumber producing region—is making wildfire protection a high priority with the management of its community forest, but it brings its own set of challenges.
By Jim Stirling
Prince George is at the heart of British Columbia's and of Canada's largest softwood lumber producing region. The forests surrounding and sustaining the city start where the last subdivision ends. Dead lodgepole pine trees—a legacy of the beetle epidemic—and a warming climate with spikes of extreme weather elevate the risk of wildfires.
Memories of what can happen with wildfire are fresh with Barriere and Kelowna in B.C. and Slave Lake in Alberta.
It's no surprise, therefore, that protection from wildfire risk is both a priority and a problem in the management of the Prince George Community Forest. The priority aspect is easy to understand; the problems, however, are more complex. In combination, they influence what the community forest can accomplish.
"We're different than most community forests with our economic ability to make money," summarizes Dan Adamson, manager of the Prince George Community Forest. "It was never intended that we could cover our costs through log harvesting revenues," he explains.
Funds to operate and maintain the 4,800 hectare community forest are sought through a variety of federal, provincial, municipal and institutional sources and are subject to regular re-application.
From the community forest's management perspective, given its finite funding, it means selecting the areas for treatment where the wildfire risk potential is highest. "It's a probability game," says Adamson. "We can only treat about 20 per cent of the forest tops and that's usually the parts of the community forest closest to homes with a significant lodgepole pine component." And prioritizing sites, as, for example, dead pine sites on steep slopes that might exacerbate a fire's spread, he points out. He reckons the sites selected for treatment cost between $14,000 and $20,000 per hectare because of the constraints imposed.
By necessity, small scale, site specific selective logging is the rule. It's not production harvesting, it's precision harvesting that's helping safeguard homes and property from wildfire.
"There lots of community and neighborhood values to accommodate. There are utility corridors and access constraints and waste management issue," notes Adamson. Burning material is not an option with airshed integrity a priority. "These huge operational constraints equate to huge costs," he says.
The Prince George Community Forest was created in 2006 and it has an allowable annual cut of 12,000 cubic metres. "We have typically cut about half of that volume, but we've harvested more because lots of that material doesn't cross a scale," explains Adamson. It's in material that ends up being chipped, for example. He estimates $9 million has been invested in the community forest since its inception and it has created jobs for about 600 people. Along the way, the safety procedures some of those people have learned and the training skills with equipment like chainsaws they have acquired have led to permanent employment within the local forest community.
The Prince George Community Forest retains Industrial Forestry Service Ltd. (IFS) in Prince George for its forestry consulting work. IFS is a long-established firm offering a wide range of forestry services.
Exactly how to safeguard an area's wildfire potential is a dynamic subject. Chunks of dried, peeling bark up to hockey puck size can create a firebrand fuel that can travel on the wind up to a kilometre, says Adamson.
"Each year we're learning new things. Fuel treatment decisions we made five years ago might now be considered too aggressive," he notes. Opening the stand and canopy can let the forest dry out too much. So the thinking with some forest fire behaviour experts is to leave more of the canopy intact to shade the forest floor, he says.
When Logging and Sawmilling Journal visited the Prince George Community Forest, a harvesting crew was working on a hillside above a subdivision fronting the Nechako River. The crew work for TDB Consultants Inc., a Prince George-based company specializing in small scale log harvesting and wildfire hazard mitigation work. TDB is the City of Prince George's prime logging contractor and the company has assembled a line-up of specialized equipment to get the job done right. "By the end of the summer when we've finished working, you won't know we've been in here," predicts Joel Bruntz, TDB's project manager.
Using low ground pressure equipment is important in an area with multiple outdoor recreation values. A Kubota KX121-3 was used to skid the hand felled trees from the bush to where the suitable stems could be accessed for loading. For longer skids, a TurboForest 42C line skidder with dual drums and Nokia tires was available on site.
TDB's site supervisor Tim Sprague was maneuvering "my baby", a small Czech-made compact Novotny forwarder. Sprague was loading pulp logs, with butts oriented forward, to be used by Canfor Corp. in its operations. The logs were bucked to Canfor's specifications of 16 feet 6 inches length. Sprague noted the Novotny's bunk can be extended to accommodate 20 foot long material. Overseeing the entire operation and ensuring all was proceeding as it should was Hunter, Sprague's bush-wise dog.
Community forest manager Adamson is investigating other initiatives to help mitigate wildfire risks around the forest. They're looking at working with local farmers with dead pine trees on their land. The idea is, he explains, to harvest the dead pine and give the net cash from the proceeds back to the farmer. It's just another way to help protect the community forest and its surroundings. Adds Adamson: "We have to adapt as we go.
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