Clearcutting not the answer for reducing urban wildfire risk, expert warns
A leading forest professional says clearcutting is the worst thing a community can do to reduce the risks of wildfires along an urban interface.
“I know that some people are advocating for clearcutting, but that’s the wrong approach with this issue,” says Bruce Blackwell, a professional forester and biologist whose consulting company is B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ltd., based in North Vancouver.
“Inevitably, that leads to a dense plantation that really is a hazard for a period of time.”
Blackwell is extremely well respected in his field. Mosaic, the largest private timber holder on Vancouver Island, describes him as a “guru of interface fire management.”
His long list of clients ranges from the Canadian Forest Service, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and Pacific Agri-Food Research Station to dozens of regional and municipal governments across the province, including Whistler and North Vancouver.
Blackwell’s comments put the lie to assertions that clearcutting is necessary to reduce the wildfire risk along the interface with the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as the Six Mountains.
He suggests the solution is to reduce surface fuels and “thin from below,” which could include removal of smaller trees and the lower limbs of other trees to six meters above the ground to limit expansion of a surface fire; leave “the biggest trees, the tallest trees” that are less susceptible to crown fires.
Interface treatments might involve a 50-metre strip of forest behind a small cluster of homes ranging to perhaps 300 metres for larger communities, he said. Costs vary by the specific forest, including age of the wood, biomass, and steepness of terrain, but generally in B.C. coastal forests range from $10,000 to $20,000-plus per hectare.
Such treatments not only reduce the wildfire risk but help to preserve viewscapes as well as restore areas previously harvested while allowing for enhanced wildlife habitat and the return of old-growth forests — of which the Municipal Forest Reserve has none.
Blackwell assisted with the Firestorm 2003 Review Team in the development of recommendations on forest management and policy to mitigate the risk of catastrophic fires in the wildland/urban interface after the Kelowna wildfires.
— Larry Pynn Feb. 26, 2020