With only a few months left until wildfire risk rises in the Central Okanagan, the province is working in partnership with the City of Kelowna in order to protect homes from wildfires.
Work was underway Thursday morning, as trees were removed from an area along June Springs Road. The Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson visited Kelowna to asses the project, which will be ongoing over the next few months in the city’s southeast district.
Of the 4,000 hectares identified for tree removal in the Central Okanagan, 1,000 hectares will be tackled during the next three years, equaling $1.6 million, said David Conly, operations manager for the Okanagan area with Forest Enhancement Society, a Crown corporation.
The province has increased funding for the Forest Carbon initiative by $13 million to the Forest Management Society of B.C. for the next three years, which will fund wildfire mitigation projects around the province.
Conly said with the tree removal, there is also an ecological benefit to the forests as well. By mimicking what wildfire does naturally, forests will be more resilient to wildfires in the long term.
“We’re taking those forests back to a natural state. By removing some of the trees from them and leaving the bigger trees, it’s more open and there’s less fuel on the forest floor,” Conly said.
He said the feedback from residents in the area has been positive.
“There’s a lot of disease and drought that’s happening in these forests. Basically, they’re like tinder sticks for wildfires,” Conly said.
Tree removal work is also being conducted in the Munro area, near Peachland as well as Joe Rich in the Mission Creek area, Conly said.
We’ve seen season after season of catastrophic wildlife, and we’re trying to get out ahead of it as much as we can,” Conly said.
The firewood collected from the project will be chipped and recycled, said Julius Huhs, land and resource coordinator with the province.
Certain areas in B.C. will also have targeted grazing, where cows will make quick work of grassy areas.
“Should there be new fuel or debris, cows will trample on those and eliminate the risks of wildfires through that,” Huhs said.
“Due to years and years of fire suppression and not logging, (Forests have grown unnaturally.) If you imagine in the past before people came, wildfires came through these areas in certain intervals,” he said, adding that some areas have historically burned every 10 to 15 years, but wildfire suppression has prevented that.
“We are now recreating it through our work here, so we’re emulating what fire would normally do,” Huhs said.
In areas where targeted grazing is not an option, prescribed burning is another tool, he said.
The province has also dedicated $101 million to wildfire fighting efforts for this season, up from $64 million last year.