Osoyoos Indian Band works on wildfire risk mitigation project to protect Mount Baldy community

'Wake up and be proactive'

The Osoyoos Indian Band was recognized recently by the Minister of Forests for their lead role in a project to protect users of Mount Baldy.

Work was recently conducted through funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, creating an 8.5-kilometre fuel break, which is a cleared or managed area in a forest where vegetation is intentionally reduced or removed to help prevent or slow the spread of wildfires, along Mt. Baldy Road.

The area cutback was aimed at mitigating wildfire threats to the infrastructure at Mt. Baldy and creating a safer egress route for public and firefighting crews in the event of a wildfire.

In 2021, the Nk'Mip Creek wildfire near Oliver and Osoyoos crept toward the Mt. Baldy area, with well over 100 properties put under evacuation orders.

“B.C. has experienced a devastating wildfire season, and given the effects of climate change, mitigating wildfire risk is vital for keeping people, communities and First Nations in B.C. safe – now more than ever,” Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests, said in a news release.

"[The society] has undertaken many wildfire risk reduction projects, bringing concrete benefits in areas throughout the province. It is encouraging to see this effort continue in the South Okanagan and Kootenay Boundary regions in partnership with the Osoyoos Indian Band.”

Peter Flett, operations manager with Nk’Mip Forestry — OIB’s forestry department — said the importance of the project comes down to decreasing the risk of a high-intensity wildfire starting by removing fuels in areas where the forest is dense and overgrown.

“In short, treating this long linear stretch of road will reduce the wildfire risk to the surrounding areas.”

The Nk’Mip forestry team has completed the prescriptions of the area including a comprehensive roadmap for how to address wildfire risk while also conducting an archeological survey of the area.

James Katasonoff, wildfire officer with the BC Wildfire Service’s Southeast Fire Centre, said the work is a viable control line during future suppression efforts in the area if wildfires were to occur.

All disturbance to the land requires review by the First Nations’ lands department.

If an area is deemed to have archeological potential a preliminary field reconnaissance, designed to assess the potential for archeological sites within an area, is required.

“Archaeology sites are often invisible and their precise locations are not publicly available. As such, sites can be inadvertently impacted by machinery, tree planting, fires, etc.; anything that can disturb the surface of the ground can cause impacts. I also say ‘inadvertently’, because I don’t believe people purposefully want to wreck a site,” said Brenda Gould, president at Similkameen Consulting, who was hired to work on the archeological survey for the area.

Archaeological sites are automatically protected under the Heritage Conservation Act and altering them is illegal without a permit.

According to the society, work done for the purpose of wildfire risk reduction activities often causes less disturbance than regular forestry harvesting so it is usually very easy to ensure site protection without compromising the activities meant to protect people and properties.

“The Baldy wildfire reduction survey was interesting. We found one previously recorded archaeological site just inside the boundary of one of the areas which meant that the boundary had to be pulled back a few metres. In other areas, we found a historic campsite, probably from within the last 50 years and a few huckleberry patches,” said Gould.

Flett added that this is the time for British Columbians to “wake up and start being proactive” by managing forest fuels for a future of wildfires.

“We can no longer hope our communities will be spared or saved by wildfire crews. When we have a mild fire season, we cannot forget the panic and suffering we experience during the severe fire seasons. Managing our forests for wildfire at the scale needed to see significant impacts comes with compromises, and these are the discussions we need to be having.”

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