Full natural forests are the best defence against wildfires, according to the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance.
The organization’s director, Taryn Skalbania, said primary forests are the best defence against all kinds of wildfires, including man-made or lightning-caused fires.
With searing-hot temperatures and an early start to the wildfire season at 208 fires burning across the province, the alliance says part of the blame goes to logging companies. On the other hand, those companies often say that clearcutting slows down the spread of wildfires by providing fire breaks.
“There’s a better chance that a lightning strike will cause a runaway wildfire from a clear cut than from a closed forest canopy,” she said.
She said that intact forests are more effective at preventing fires because there are many tree species and a mix of tree ages. Natural forests also don’t have dry ladder fuels, which are live or dead vegetation that allows fire to climb up from the forest floor and into the tree canopy.
Skalbania cites an analysis out of two Australian universities, which found that logging also contributes to wildfires due to the slash piles left behind by companies in clear-cut areas. She also points to Halifax biologist Bob Bancroft who has said clearcuts tend to flush water out, drying the soil out, which makes future growth in the area more flammable.
“Clearcuts also often trample water sources, which then dries out the soil because they give access to warm weather and wind. They also leave woody debris on the ground, which can act as additional fire fuel,” said Skalbania.
“If you go into a natural forest and try to light a fire with a dead tree part, it’ll be hard. They’re soggy and full of stored water because natural forests store water and with clear cuts, it just dries out.”
Of course, Skalbania said, the most obvious culprit for a potentially intense fire season this year is climate change.
“Our fires today are not fuel-caused. If it were, B.C.’s forests would have burned down hundreds of years ago,” she said.
“And every time we cut down a tree, we’re making it hotter and drier. We’re making the temperatures increase and the humidity decrease and we’re causing our wildfires in this way.”
Skalbania said there is a solution to the increase in wildfire activity.
“Thinning of fuels instead of clearcutting will go a long way. We need to bring back local and traditional ecological knowledge, which means First Nations’ knowledge and generations of pioneers who know how to thin and create natural fire breaks that do prescribed burns.”