Government stimulus project increases Creston Valley fire safety

A federal government stimulus project recently ended in the Creston Valley after bringing work to over 100 unemployed resource workers...

Workers at the West Creston (top) and Canyon-Lister interface fire management project sites.

A federal government stimulus project recently ended in the Creston Valley after bringing work to over 100 unemployed resource workers and reducing the risk of interface fires in three areas.

West Creston, Canyon-Lister and Wynndel-Lake-view were the focus of the Job Opportunities Program, which saw $5 million spread throughout the regional districts of Central Koo-tenay, East Kootenay and Kootenay Boundary to create employment and treat forest fuels adjacent to communities.

“It’s an unprecedented approach,” said Central Kootenay project manager John Cathro. “Until now, individual communities or foresters had to apply for money.”

While the Canyon-Lister project recently wrapped up, the West Creston and Wynndel portions are down to the last few days of work.

The project was an important one, not just because it offered employment but also because it makes communities at the edge of forests safer.

“For a hundred years, we’ve been suppressing fires,” said Cathro. “That fire suppression led to an increased buildup of forest fuels.”

While most of the forest around Kootenay towns is thick with brush, the three Creston Valley areas look much tidier, with the bush cleared and lower branches cut off.

“We’re removing fuels that get fire into the canopy,” said Mark Smedstad, a project manager with Prince George’s TBD Con-sultants, subcontracted by Vancouver’s B.A. Blackwell and Associates.

The West Creston forest is a mixture of cedar, hemlock, larch and ponderosa pine, which had grown into a thick mass of foliage. Several hectares of that have now been cleared of forest fire fuels, including bushes and trees under 17.5 centimetres in diameter.

“Before, you were up against a green wall,” said Cathro. “It’s so nice to be able to stretch your eyes.”

The thinning and clearing creates a defensible space, and keeps fire from spreading up into the trees.

“If I lived out in the country, I’d be very keen to have someone do this,” said Smedstad.

By decreasing the potential for interface fires — that is, forest fires that make their way into populated areas — the project also helps biodiversity and wildlife, by restoring the ecosystem to a state similar to the result of a forest fire ripping through.

While most of the project’s waste was chipped or burned, a great deal was left behind for residents to use for firewood or fence posts.

“We don’t want to sanitize the area,” said Cathro.

This project could only be carried out on Crown land — unfortunately, this allows for clearing only a small portion of what should be. As Cathro explained, the hectares needing to be cleared can be measured in the tens of thousands, but treated areas can be measured in the hundreds.

“We’re short of funding by an order of magnitude,” he said.

While workers appreciated the funding that gave them work, they also enjoyed the chance to provide some peace of mind to rural residents.

“Knowing the community is safe is reassuring,” said Pam Stewart.

“It gives people a sense of community involvement, especially in a place where everyone knows everyone in town,” said Smedstad.