No future without smoke

By Andru McCracken

Not loving those smokey skies? Smoke could be necessary for a non-apocalyptic fire season. /ANDRU MCCRACKEN

The Executive Director of Forest Enhancement BC, Steve Kozuki said that the years of 2017 and 2018 have taught residents in BC the smoke is a part of life here.

“If you ask people in California, Greece and British Columbia I think they are starting to realize the harsh reality,” said Kozuki.

Kozuki was reflecting on the practice of burning forest residuals, piles of debris left by logging companies and the future management of forests in the province. 

“What citizens are starting to wake up to or become aware of is that there is no future without smoke,” said Kozuki. “You can either have the hazy smoke from prescribed burning, or you can have the thick dense smoke from the depths of a drought. You can choose how you get your smoke, but no smoke is not an option.”

Kozuki said that decades of fire suppression has created an untenable situation first in pine forests and now in other forests.

“[We] interrupted the natural flow of wildfire across the landscape,” he said. “A lot of the forests we have – fire was naturally a very frequent visitor.”

He said frequent fires meant that there wasn’t much fuel to burn and forests had more space between trees.

“What we didn’t realize was inadvertently we created forests that were much thicker with higher fuel content then they have ever had,” he said. “When you do get a fire in there it is impossible to put it out.”

He called it a new paradigm.

“We kind of a have a tinder box. That is the whole new paradigm. Until we get the forests back to a more natural state where they are less dense, our future has a lot of fire,” he said.

“Once we achieve a more balanced forest we need to have fire to maintain that condition. The end goal is having fires, but they are not catastrophic and less life threatening.”

Kozuki called it an epiphany and he likened the future of forest management to the way First Nations used fire precontact to encourage berry growth, increase mobility, and maintain diverse habitat for wildlife.

“It’s a more comprehensive understanding of what the forest would look like under natural conditions compared to the forests we’ve created,” he said.

The Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia was created in February 2016, funded primarily by the province of British Columbia, but also the federal government.

“A lot of the projects we do help contribute to achieve the climate change targets under the Paris Agreement,” said Kozuki.

Its goals are to prevent and mitigate the impact of wildfires, improve damaged and low value forests, improve habitat for wildlife, support the use of fibre from low value forests and treat forests to improve the management of greenhouse gases and to advocate for the environmental and resource stewardship of BC’s forests.

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