Working now to prevent wildfires next summer

By District Staff on Monday, Dec 4, 2017

Given how soggy our winters are, you'd assume that, right about now, staff are taking a well-earned break from worrying about forest fires, right? 

In reality, winter is when our Community Forester, Guy Exley, springs into action, sending crews to our forested areas to remove much of the 'fuel' that can help summer wildfires spread from the forest to our urban areas, putting local homes and businesses in harm's way.

Dense small trees and fine woody debris beneath a canopy of larger mature trees provides the perfect fuel for forest fires

Wildfire risk on the North Shore

Perched on the edge of wilderness, North Vancouver is where residential neighbourhoods meet forests, mountains, and creeks. Our natural environment is the envy of the world, but it also brings challenges unique to this type of geography: debris flows and flooding in winter, drought and wildfire in summer.

Climate change is amplifying these challenges.

Not only is our warming planet contributing to more extreme wind and rainstorms in the winter, it's also leading to hotter, drier summers, like those we saw this past summer in BC's interior. 

Managing the wildfire risks

To help us prepare for, respond to, and recover from this ever-increasing risk of wildfires — particularly in areas where our community meets the forest — staff, working with a team of outside experts, developed a comprehensive Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

The CWPP contains 38 recommendations to make the District as fire-safe as possible, and consists of five key elements: communication and education, structure protection, emergency response, training, and fuel management.

And that's where Guy, our expert Community Forester, comes in.

How we manage wildfire fuel while making the forest healthier

Dense small trees and fine woody debris beneath a canopy of larger mature trees provides the perfect fuel for forest fires, so Guy hires crews (with funding from the BC Forest Service and Union of BC Municipalities) to manage the debris, lessening the potential for fire to catch and spread throughout the forest, and then to surrounding homes and businesses.

(Equally important, in the event that the fire actually starts in a home, it will be less likely to spread to the surrounding forest.)

Not only do crews reduce the debris, they also prune to minimize 'ladder' fuels; limbs and other materials that can help a fire on the forest floor jump into the tree canopy, where it becomes much more difficult to fight, and can spread more easily.

And since we're already working in the forest and have all of the equipment in place, we take advantage of the opportunity to remove hazardous trees, eradicate non-native, invasive species, plant native shrubs and trees where needed, and do other important forest and habitat restoration work.

A wildfire treatment area immediately after treatment (left) and seven years later (right), with a new healthy, bio-diverse understory

The end result?

A healthier, more bio-diverse forest that is more able to withstand disease and drought, and is less likely to catch fire. In the event there is a fire, it will spread more slowly and stay closer to the ground, making it easier for firefighters to contain.

That's a LOT to accomplish... and as you can imagine, the work required to achieve all of these benefits extends beyond what we could do with a few rakes and shovels.

So if you're out and about in any of the areas being treated, you're likely to notice large trucks, machinery, and other equipment, and you might even spot a new (temporary) access road into the trees here and there.

Crews work to eliminate wildfire 'fuels' and other hazards in a wooded section along Hoskins Road, to help prevent wildfires from spreading to local homes and businesses

This work may appear excessive or extreme. We get it! No one likes to see trucks and machinery working in our parks, especially when entire trees need to be removed.

A happy ending for everyone

While the work is being carried out, crews take every available precaution to protect natural aquatic and other habitats. When they're done, they will close the temporary access trails and replant or restore areas where required. 

And with the end goal being to preserve our forests for future generations while improving safety for everyone, we think you'll agree that the temporary disruption is more than worth it.

Learn more about how we manage fire risk in the District

View a map of areas we're treating now

Review our Community Wildfire Protection Plan

Review our Climate Change Adaptation Strategy


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