Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg

Arson suspected in Maple Mountain wildfire that cost $330,000 to fight

An arsonist is thought to have caused a 2018 wildfire on Maple Mountain in North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, municipal forester Shaun Mason said Monday.

“They found six different ignition sites,” Mason said during a public tour of logging sites on Maple Mountain. He didn’t elaborate, but said that evidence was left behind and that a suspect has been identified. A mountain biker alerted authorities to the fire.

According to a North Cowichan forestry report, fighting the 5.9-hectare wildfire August 8 cost the Municipality $122,314 and the BC Wildfire Service about $210,000.

Mason said the fire damage occurred at two separate sites of about the same size — one a younger nine-year-old “plantation,” the other a maturer stand of 70-year-old trees.

“Two totally separate areas and they both burned about the same,” he said.

Standing in front of the younger site, Mason told 13 citizens who attended the forestry tour that the municipality “salvaged what it could” after the fires.

In some parts of the burned area, young seedlings have been covered with white cones to deter foraging by black-tailed deer. Elsewhere on Maple Mountain, the municipality uses a green nylon mesh product made by Cowichan Tribes that is more pleasing to the eye.

Clearcut logging can increase the risk of wildfire.

“A freshly harvested cutback does have a higher risk…just because you have fuels and branches and stuff like that (on the ground),” Mason said.
(https://www.sixmountains.ca/clearcutting-not-the-answer-for-red)

Old-growth forests are also known to be more resistant to wildfires.

Roads and logging can allow invasive Scotch broom to thrive, although not in all locations. Mount Prevost is less impacted, perhaps due to wetter weather.

Mason said the municipality spends about $15,000 annually combatting broom in strategic spots, employing a “pullerbear” device to extract the plants rather than cutting.

“It’s a battle we’re not going to win.”

The municipality has had better success removing another invasive, tansy ragwort.

The tour also visited a forest site that sustained blowdown damage during a destructive storm in December 2018. “The wind was like a freight train,” Mason said.

The presence of laminated root rot, a fungus that can kill Douglas-fir, may have weakened the trees. Logging may have also opened the site to the fuller force of the winds, however some sites not similarly impacted by logging also sustained wind damage.

The forest reserve overlaps the coastal Douglas-fir forest zone, which is the “smallest and most at risk zone in BC,” according to the Coastal Douglas-fir Conservation Partnership, which includes the BC government. (https://www.cdfcp.ca/index.php/about/why-is-the-cdf-at-risk)

“It’s definitely a rare ecosystem,” Mason said.

Logging in the forest reserve has been suspended pending secret talks with local First Nations and a public consultation process that is about to be restarted.

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(Larry Pynn photo: Municipal forester Shaun Mason at the site of a 2018 wildfire.)

— Larry Pynn, Sept . 27, 2021

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg