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Retired foresters tell CSRD board that B.C.'s forest management practices need reform

Foresters call for reform

A pair of retired foresters say B.C.'s forests are too old and too dense, and more measures are needed to reduce wildfire fuels.

Archie MacDonald and Murray Wilson attended the Feb. 15 Columbia Shuswap Regional District regular board meeting, speaking to directors about the need for more forest management practices to reduce a build-up of fuels.

“Unfortunately, we have a big issue today with our forests, they're very old and very unhealthy,” MacDonald said.

Wilson and MacDonald told the board they are retired foresters, with more than 35 years of experience working in a wide range of jobs in B.C.'s forest sector.

“Our reason for speaking out today is that we've become increasingly frustrated with the misinformation and the doom and gloom being spread about wildfires,” MacDonald said.

“We are equally concerned about the lack of any meaningful measures being proposed by the provincial government to combat wildfires.”

According to MacDonald and Wilson, excess fuel in forests is the main problem.

“The three main components of wildfire, it's oxygen, heat, and fuel,” MacDonald said. “Without one, we don't have fire. We can’t control oxygen, we can’t control heat, but we can control fuel. So our fundamental objective must be to reduce the amount of fuel in our forests.”

The increasing build up of available fuel in B.C. forests has been caused by aggressive wildfire suppression, MacDonald said.

“We've become too good at suppressing wildfires over the last 100 to 150 years,” MacDonald said. “This has allowed our forests to get much older, and more and more fuel to be built up within the forests.

“As the forests get older they become much more susceptible to pests and disease outbreaks and drought, and consequently we have more fires.”

MacDonald said that older forests aren’t necessarily healthier forests.

“Typically these older, unhealthy forests are much denser, they have less species diversity, they have way fewer openings such as meadows or gaps within the forests.”

The importance of forest management

The two retired foresters said they believe through careful forest management, the province can minimize out of control wildfires.

“We need to create much younger, much healthier forests,” MacDonald said. “Through forest management, we can create forests that are younger and less dense. They have much more diversity within them.

“We can allow the openings, the meadows and whatnot to develop going forward, and consequently these forests have much less fuel.”

MacDonald and Wilson said they believed speaking at a local level of government is the best way to gather support for a change in forest management.

Dean Trumbley, director for Electoral Area D, said he worked as a research biologist for 20 years and he agreed with their message wholeheartedly.

“A lot of people don't understand that we created this problem. Forest fires actually used to be a lot larger,” Trumbley said. “In the 30s, 40s and 60s, they were massive, but they burned slow and they didn't burn as intensely, and they reset the successional clock of the forests.”

Trumbley echoed their assertion that current B.C. forests are too dense.

“What we've done now is become so effective in firefighting, that our stems per hectare density is not normal and it has even a further repercussion,” Trumbley said. “If we look right now at all of our ungulates, which is like your moose, deer, elk populations, all of them are at all-time lows. And it's because the forests are too dense.”

Presentation request prepared for UBCM

Rhona Martin, director for Electoral Area E, suggested contacting the Union of B.C. Municipalities to ask if a panel could be set up to bring the message forward.

“Forest fires and forest health is on top of everybody's mind, and so what you're talking about would be part of the conversation," Martin said.

The board agreed to have staff prepare a resolution to request MacDonald and Wilson present at this year's UBCM convention.

Since submissions are due at the end of February, directors agreed to vote on the resolution over email in order to submit it prior to the deadline.

Wilson will presenting in a webinar at the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) convention that is happening in Kamloops in April.

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