To the Editor,
Tim Ryan rightly concludes that dramatic forest fire risk reduction is needed, but his is not a big picture assessment. He states that current wildfires are related to climate change, and the symptom-the dead beetle pine-should be treated with prescribed burns. While this is one very useful and fast acting tool, I disagree that it should be the prime initiative.
Many other human factors contributed to the situation than is common knowledge. Number one is the trapping to near extinction of the beaver. This keystone species-responsible managers of B.C.’s hydrology as well as forest transition… gone. Water tables drop, snow-melt rages the creeks to incised gullies, ecosystems dry out, soil and biomass erode. Fire potential increases exponentially and happens more catastrophically. From the dry ridges pines and Douglas firs replace cedars, hemlocks, and spruces, as well as the previously beaver managed broadleaved deciduous stands, dramatically reducing diversity. With the loss of ponds evaporative water was massively reduced, drying the air locally and downwind regionally.
Later, the management realized that it’s policy of total fire suppression was unnatural but the province was already overrun with over-mature pine along with a dramatic reduction in the natural fire buffers.
We also started clear-cutting coastal old growth and interior forests, focusing on higher value trees, exasperating the over-mature pine problem, while furthering unprecedented erosion and biomass loss. With every Western cut-block a massive source of transpired moisture for rain to the East was lost, while winds increased-furthering ecosystem drying at every turn.
Single age tree farms, like post-fire forests, often produce closed canopies of exclusive conifers. Dead lower branches become ladder fuel for candling forest fires, leading to crown fires, firestorms, etc. Conversely, deciduous forests drop crown fires to the ground; such fires are geometrically slower.
The government saw the exploding beetle population but delayed until it was way too late. In the very least, they could have focused on logging fire guards. But further, we need to plant deciduous fire guards in strategic locations, setting the stage for the reintroduction of beaver on scale. Right now we need to hydrate the landscape and pray that we haven’t delayed over-long with coming to the real conclusion: that nearly two centuries of bad practices are directly responsible for all of the variables that caused this situation. We need to understand the extent of the problem, not simply treat the obvious symptoms with more of the same.