Burn severity mapping complete for Stuart Nechako fire areas

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Burn severity mapping is now complete for the majority of the area burned in last summer’s fires in the Stuart Nechako Natural Resource district, with the final assessment of the Shovel Lake fire expected within the next few weeks, according to the Ministry of Forests.

The mapping is the first step towards a timber supply review for the area, which the Nechako Watershed Roundtable called for last week. The roundtable called on Victoria initiate the review, citing “grave concerns for the health of the Nechako watershed following a decade of unprecedented wildfire, and other changes, in our watershed.”

The roundtable said the combination of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, salvage logging, and major wildfires has created a series of threats within the watershed with “severe implications for runoff and flood risk, erosion, water quality, and habitat, and related community impacts and concerns.”

The area was particularly hard hit by wildfire this summer with eight major fires burning close to 450,000 hectares of forest. The Nechako Watershed Roundtable says that comprises about 11.5 per cent of the watershed.

Staff in the chief forester’s office use burn severity mapping to conduct a special review of the impacts of the 2018 fires on timber supply in the Omineca and Skeena Regions, according to an e-mail from Jeremy Uppenborn, senior public affairs and media relations officer with the ministry.

The review will help the chief forester assess if current allowable annual cuts should be re-determined, and to provide an initial assessment of the impacts of wildfires on mid-term timber supply levels once post-wildfire salvage harvesting has been completed.

Salvage harvesting of fire-damaged timber is beginning, and licensees are being asked to follow the chief forester’s guidance, which was issued in January 2018. The document provides guidance on what forested areas should be reserved from harvest to protect non-timber values (retention planning). When planning retention during salvage harvesting, there are six points of overarching guidance that should be considered in order of priority:

  • Ensuring human safety and minimizing damage to existing infrastructure.
  • Sustaining, restoring or enhancing the ecosystem capacity to provide ecosystem values, such as water quality and wildlife habitat.
  • Considering the collective disturbances on the landscape to mitigate cumulative impacts on environmental and societal values.
  • Helping forests adapt to improve resilience to climate change.
  • Minimizing impacts to timber supply by shifting logging from undamaged stands to damaged stands wherever possible.
  • Recovering value from the burnt timber before the wood quality deteriorates.

Ministry staff are also assessing the burnt areas to prioritize areas for reforestation.