On July 7, 2017, lightning-ignited fires in the Alex Fraser Research Forest, a 10,000-hectare parcel of crown land managed by the Faculty of Forestry to provide teaching and research opportunities.
Resources and equipment were immediately deployed to suppress the fires. This included the construction of fireguards, areas strategically cleared of trees and other vegetation that serve as barriers around the perimeter of a wildfire. Fireguards work to stop a fire’s spread by removing all sources of fuel.
Lasting several months, suppression efforts to manage seven fires that tore through the research area succeeded in protecting 90 percent of the forest.
Although critical to the successful fire suppression efforts, the fireguards did impact the forest’s environmental, economic, and social values. However, when assessing some of the potentially negative impacts of fireguards it is important to remember that fireguard construction is often an essential tool in the protection of life and property.
What happened next presented partnership and new research opportunities for the Faculty.
By October 2017, the University of British Columbia and the Cariboo-Chilcotin Natural Resource District forest professionals had collectively assessed the impacts of suppression efforts and developed Wildfire Suppression Rehabilitation Plans (WSRP) to address the impacts of the fires and fire-guards. The WSRP’s address four key areas: impacts to natural drainage patterns; increased exposure to erosion processes and slope destabilization; increased fuel loading as a result of pushed over coarse woody debris; and increased potential for invasive species establishment on disturbed soils. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was considered during development of the WSRPs to identify opportunities to build back better post suppression activities. Treatments in accordance with the Wildfire Regulation were selected and rehabilitation began.
At the same time, it was recognized that the establishment of fireguards also created other impacts to the research forest that would not be directly addressed through the Wildfire Regulation. For example, merchantable coarse woody debris does not always qualify for fire hazard abatement treatments, and fireguards showed evidence of continuous disturbance due to public access. Public access would inhibit the fireguards from recovering naturally whilst continually impacting aquatic and terrestrial habitat dependent on successful recovery of the fireguard.
BC forest professionals were able to plan and implement treatments that both aligned with the Wildfire Regulation and had secondary benefits that addressed many of the additional impacts identified.
One eligible treatment that could address multiple impacts is pullback. Pullback is the replacement of the organic soil, and/or mineral soil, and/or coarse woody debris that was displaced during the construction of the fireguard. A rough and loose mounded appearance occurs where displaced soil and debris is replaced across the width of the mineral soil fireguard. The benefits of pullback include returning displaced productive soils and seedbeds; creating a suitable environment for revegetation, restricting increased access to the public, and increasing the rate at which the fireguard will return to a productive land base. Although pullback can be more costly than other treatments such as water bars or ditching, the additional benefits seem to resolve common impacts identified by various land users from foresters to ranchers to recreationalists. Further study may help guide forest professionals by analyzing the cost/benefit analysis of various rehabilitation treatments.
The Alex Fraser Research Forest, the Faculty, UBC, and the Natural Resource District were able to address environmental, social, and economic needs with the creative use of treatments. By utilizing UBC staff to create the WSRP, UBC was able to fund treatments outside of the scope of wildfire suppression rehabilitation such as wood fibre recovery that complemented a holistic approach to the recovery of land disturbed from fire suppression activities. The ongoing monitoring of results continues and will allow for even further improvements as we learn more.
For further information contact Kyle Miller at Kyle.Miller@gov.bc.ca.