West Boundary Community Forest (WBCF) recently partnered with Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band, Department of Forests and BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) to undertake a prescribed burn in the Rexin area , northeast of Rock Creek, British Columbia.
The burn was carried out on April 7, 2022 to improve wildlife habitat, while reducing fuel load density and the potential wildfire risk associated with it.
Peter Flett of Vaagen Fiber Canada, who was one of the project partners through the WBCF, was extremely pleased with the success of the burn, which was close to the community.
“It’s the first burn we’ve been involved in that was so close to the community. It’s a great introduction to prescribed burning for the community,” he said, adding that while this burn covered one processing unit, there will be several more prescribed burns planned in the future in the area.
“This prescribed burn was primarily focused on restoring the ecosystem, to remove some of the ground vegetation and promote the regrowth of native grasses. It will also help improve wildlife habitat and support water quality goals,” said Flett.
James Katasonoff, forest fire officer at BCWS’ South East Fire Centre, said not only is this a great opportunity to implement traditional practices in the forest and form partnerships and relationships, but it’s was also crucial in mitigating future wildfire risk to the community.
“Our ecosystem here at Boundary is called the NDT 4 ecosystem, which means it has traditionally had a natural, lightning-caused, low-intensity fire, and the ecosystem in the area has evolved to need of fire, to function properly. So this burn is a good opportunity to bring beneficial fire back in a controlled way and when close to a community like this any reduction in wildfire intensity that may occur in the future is always positive,” he said. .
Brody Armstrong, the Penticton Indian Band’s natural resources project manager, agreed and said the project had two components. “Burning will not only serve as a firewall, but above all it is a rejuvenating and regenerating practice, to help the earth. It’s a win-win on every level,” he said.
Armstrong said that when carrying out these prescribed burns, First Nations people put a value on everything when writing the ordinances.
“We’re looking to save a lot of old trees, save a lot of habitat, all the little animals that don’t really have a voice. It’s a holistic way to make a burn. It’s a marriage of traditional burning practices with contemporary ones,” he said.
Vern Louie, forest manager for the Osoyoos Indian Band, also highlighted the importance of traditional burning practices and why he thinks prescribed burning is particularly essential.
“In the past, it was always done that way, as a community. I want to help raise awareness of a return to traditional prescribed burning, engage communities more, and help them understand that fire is not always something to be feared. If the burn can be done safely, I want to raise awareness of its importance,” he said, adding that the band elders were really happy with this prescribed burn and the way things were planned. They want to see everyone go back to traditional burning, Louie said.
According to ecosystem biologist Lindsey Dewart, having these traditional values and experiences from the Osoyoos Indian Band, as well as the Penticton Indian Band, proved extremely valuable in making this project a reality.
Dewart, who worked on the project through the Ministry of Forests, said: “This project would not have happened without working with First Nations. In entering into this project, I relied heavily on the historical knowledge of the traditional knowledge keepers, and their advice, of both bands. They have been invaluable partners to work with on this.
She also noted that a project of this scale was not possible without the support and partnerships of several organizations and businesses such as WBCF, Vaagen Fiber Canada, local First Nations and local recreation groups.
Dewart also confirmed that the project is particularly important because of its overlapping values of forest fire prevention and ecosystem restoration. She said one of the ways they determine the prescribed burn area is to look at the fire regimes of the historic ecosystem and what they looked like before the 100 years of fire suppression, in order to protect communities. and resources.
“We do this by looking at fire scars in a tree, to gauge how often fires occur in an area, without reaching the severity of actually killing trees in the forest,” she said. “So trying to bring that regime back into the ecosystem is so important. From an ecosystem perspective, one of our goals is to increase species diversity, as well as species abundance.
“What I realized is that there is a lot of fear around the fire; and it is understandable. It can be very destructive, but it can also be used and has been used for generations to benefit ecosystems and also reduce the risk of really large and catastrophic wildfires,” Dewart added.
The community of Rock Creek, British Columbia suffered a devastating wildfire in 2015; a fire that spread to about 800 hectares in a few hours, causing the evacuation of hundreds of homes. Avoiding such a scenario in the future is also important to the group, and this latest prescribed burn will help with that while restoring much of the area’s natural habitat.
Flett, who coordinated with all of these project partners for the burn, expressed how great it was to be part of the burn that had so many implications for the ecosystem and the community.
“We are fortunate to be part of the fire and we are pleased that the Penticton Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band and the BC Wildfire Service led the project because for something of this scale and in the back – community course, it should be led by the experts. ,” he said.