I have no doubt that, like me, most people cringe when they hear the news coming out of California these days: a state of emergency has been declared due to unprecedented, out of control wildfires that have caused over 200,000 people to be evacuated and almost 2.5 million people to be cut off from power in an effort to stop the fires spreading further.
The situation unfolding in California strikes too close to home for Quesnel and area after our experiences in 2017 and 2018. Yes, thankfully, we had a quiet fire season this past summer; but conditions are still ripe here for more catastrophic fire seasons ahead, as there’s a lot of dead standing timber and massive slash piles throughout the North Cariboo that can provide ample fuel for future fires if we do not take proactive steps to reduce this fuel loading.
Despite the lack of notable wildfires this summer, the continued high-risk potential for future wildfires is still top of mind for Council, and one of our key strategic initiatives is to fully implement our Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). This is a major focus of our Future of Forestry Think Tank project and the City’s Forestry Initiatives Manager.
Over the past year, our Forestry Initiatives Manager has been successful in securing almost $2.5 million in grant funding for planning, prescriptions, and fuel treatments within the CWPP area (which encompasses all of the City and the surrounding developed fringe areas). Treatments are now being conducted on the City’s airport lands, 10 Mile Lake Provincial Park and around the Dragon Mountain communication towers, and planning is underway to conduct fuel management treatments in Pinnacles Park, South Hills range land, Sugar Loaf Park, Dragon Mountain Road, West Fraser Road, Garner Road, and in the Claymine Trails area.
In addition to the City’s direct initiatives under our grant funding, staff have collaborated with the Ministry of Forests to conduct fuel treatments around the Milburn Mountain communications towers and in the Marsh Road subdivision, and plans are underway, through the BC Wildfire Branch, to create major fuel breaks in the forested lands surrounding the City’s CWPP area.
As a result of our Forestry Think Tank collaboration, we’re also attracting partnerships with agencies interested in conducting research into best practices for fuel treatments. One such research project is being conducted by FP Innovations, UBC and the BC Wildfire Service at the City’s airport. We’ve also had significant interest from companies and agencies in Finland who are interested in helping us develop local skills using lighter footprint harvesting equipment – this is a direct outcome of our last Future of Forestry Think Tank session which a high profile Finish delegation participated in.
The harvesting practices and equipment used to do these fuel treatments (and to do commercial thinning) can be very different than what our local contractors are used to undertaking or seeing on the land base. That’s why another partnership involves the College of New Caledonia and the BC Wildfire Service to create specific training programs to bring our local contractors up to speed on these new approaches to forest management and the new equipment that will be needed to undertake these treatments.
As part of the work being completed by the Economic Development Transition Table in Quesnel, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is hosting a contractor information session at City Hall on November 5. This session will detail current bid opportunities, and available supports. An afternoon session will follow for the broader business community to learn more about government procurement and support programs. More info: http://bit.ly/34bydSN
We’re using every available tool to proactively protect our community from future wildfires, while at the same time, with significant assistance from the Province, provide meaningful work for our local contracting community during this protracted slow down in the forest sector.