British Columbia Post-2017 Wildfire Update

British Columbia Post-2017 Wildfire Update

Further to our story last week

https://madisonsreport.com/2018/05/24/british-columbia-log-and-timber-supply-update/

which detailed the latest data of timber loss for British Columbia following the terrible wildfires of 2017, this week Madison’s talked to wildfire ecologist Robert Gray for what turned out to be a rather gruesome update.

Right now wildfire fighters in BC are battling a large numbers of forest fires, these almost entirely set by human activity.

Northwest North America Post-Wildfire (Lack of) Strategy

Readers will remember from last week’s issue, Albert Nussbaum of the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations provided updates of provincial timber loss due to the 2017 wildfires at over 8 times that of historical average area of 142,000 hectares effecting a total of 1.2 million hectares. The impact to overall timber supply was a loss of 25 million cubic metres in the mid-term supply and 12 million cubic metres of previously-available dead pine (post-mountain pine beetle disturbance).

SOURCE: British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

 

SOURCE: British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Using this data as a reference, Madison’s spoke to BC wildfire ecologist Robert Gray Thursday for additional information about effects of the 2017 wildfires on the forested landscape.

“There are going to be big losses. The British Columbia timber supply has been a shifting landscape over the years and we should not be treating each record-breaking fire season as an anomaly,” explained Gray in a phone interview. “Historically the landscape post-fire looked different than it does now. These recent fires are leaving much larger patch sizes. Large patches of impacted area, whether mountain pine beetle, or fires [or both, as we have now — ed.] make the land more susceptible to future fires. These fires are of greater intensity, again leaving larger patches.”

Gray detailed that prior to 80-years ago the average post-disturbance patch size in the Quesnel TSA for example,was approximately 1,600 ha, but now these patches cover thousands of hectares each.

When asked for an example of a region already affected by a situation like this, Gray point to New Mexico.

“There, the openings of the patches got so big that between successive fires and the effects of wind on the soil, the land made tree re-growth impossible.”

SOURCE: British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

When asked for an example of a region already affected by a situation like this, Gray point to New Mexico.

“There, the openings of the patches got so big that between successive fires and the effects of wind on the soil, the land made tree re-growth impossible.”

The far-west area of the Cariboo-Chilcotin region is cold and dry. If an opening without trees got big enough, this region could potentially match those conditions in New Mexico where tree growth is very difficult.”

— Robert W. Gray, Wildfire Ecologist

Succession Trajectories, Fuel Load, and Potential Fire Intensity

While these warnings are disheartening, there are prescriptions to restore the forest. However all of these involve multi-decade solutions. There is no short-term or mid-term solution to this.

One particular reason is the brutal scope of loss of tree plantations in the BC wildfires last year. The silviculture planting, and future harvest, of these trees was built into all previous BC Ministry of Forests projections and must now be erased.

As detailed in last week’s issue of your Reporter, the 2017 fires impacted 650,000 hectares from the expected timber land base including a bunch of young plantations. Which will now have to be regenerated and planted all over again. Gray was able to provide further insight, saying that of those 650,000 ha, approximately 130,000 ha were forest plantation land. This is an immediate loss to BC’s previously-calculated mid-term timber supply.

As if this wasn’t all apocalyptic enough, the BC Wildfire Service says some of last summer’s monster forest fires could still be smouldering deep underground and may flare up with little warning, according to StarMetro Vancouver April 30.

So-called “overwintering fires” are the result of huge burns such as last summer’s Elephant Hill fire near Kamloops, BC. They can continue to smoulder for weeks or months, sometimes popping up again in the spring when the snow recedes.

SOURCE: Robert Gray, Wildfire Ecologist, R.W. Gray Consulting

This is a new reality and forest operators in BC will have to adjust to the shifting landscape. The forest management practices of past decades, specifically that of putting out wildfires, has created this situation where each successive disruption is greater, which then causes the next disruption to also be greater.

“The mistake is to assess each record-breaking wildfire season, with it’s attendant losses, as a one-time event,” detailed Gray. “These new larger patch sizes demonstrate that this is the new normal, not a one-year anomaly.

“The Ministry of Forests projections should be adjusted so the new much greater timber losses are built into the forecasting.”

If one is truly working to restore this disrupted landscape and grow another healthy forest, the best solution is a harsh one. As the attending image demonstrates.

“We are faced with a mosaic of severity,” concluded Gray. “A lot of it can’t be salvaged, even some of the partially-burnt trees. These fire seasons are longer, and we are having warmer weather. More trees killed each year become more fuel for the next fire. Plus grasses are growing because there is less canopy and the sun and rain reach to the ground now.

“The landscape is set up for big fires. Post-salvage harvest, the areas should be burned. We need to make the land not burnable for a while. As for the lost timber plantations, that land will require mastication, treatment with fire, and only then another planting.

“These restoration needs are greater than any individual operator. The scope of this disruption requires a proper strategy. There needs to be re-burning to remove the fuel, and we need to plant more hardwoods in the interim while the new healthy forest grows.”

At a recent forestry Think Tank meeting organized by Quesnel, BC, Mayor Bob Simpson, the general consensus is that our practices of the past century have resulted in a broken landscape.

 

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