By Andru McCracken

A problematic patch of trees set to be clearcut because of fire concern. “Ladder fuels” can help take a small fire into the canopy.

A logging program aimed at reducing fire risk and creating fuel breaks around Valemount and Tete Jaune is underway.

Chair of the Valemount Community Forest Ainslie Jackman said that the blocks were planned in 2018 but took time to get permitted.

The work corresponds to a fire hazard study undertaken in 2012 and four blocks in particular were developed in consultation with the Robson Valley Fire Zone, the Ministry of Forests, Parks and municipal firefighters.

“We looked at the maps and said what’s been taken care of that was identified back in 2012 and what has yet to be looked after,” she said.

A mature pine forest with a lot of space between fuels on the ground and the canopy.

In particular they were looking for pine stands impacted by the mountain pine beetle and mistletoe.

Jackman said mistletoe creates hypertrophic growth or ‘witches brooms’ when it infects trees – in other words, thick branches that burn hot.

“They’re really bad during a fire,” she said.

Jackman said that they did leave some stands to facilitate locals getting their firewood and to account for other values, like windbreaks based on consultation with adjacent landowners.

Two blocks were near Valemount, to the west and east, and another two blocks were in Tete Jaune, one adjacent to the S-bend curve on Blackman Road and another between Blackman Road and the train tracks.

What the blocks had in common was that they posed a fire risk.

“The combination of the older pine type with the mountain pine beetle and the mistletoe is a recipe for fire,” said Jackman.

She said the logging wasn’t a profit-making endeavour, and may not even break even.

“It’s our responsibility to identify the risk; we’re in the business of logging. What can we do to help protect the residents in the case where they live next door to the forest?”

The way to stem the spread of mistletoe, said Jackman, is sanitation logging.

“Basically clear cutting,” she said.

Dan and Lynn Lawless were out walking with their dog the day that logging began.

“It was a bit of a shock at first, but when we found out what you were doing…,” said Lynn. “The trees will grow back and it will be a nice healthy forest.”

Dan said he’s been waiting for the logging to happen and he’s happy for the fire break.

Jackman said they will encourage poplar to grow in a narrow block between Blackman Road and the train tracks.

Jackman shows a tree infested with mistletoe.

“We have had lots of little fires along the train tracks that make the locals really nervous. What we’re trying to encourage there is poplar because it makes a good fuel break, it holds more water. If there is a spark from the train or somebody throws out a cigarette, it is less likely to burn.”

The logging created a stir on social media, many residents said that the logging has removed a sound barrier between themselves and the tracks, especially near crossings where the train sounds its whistle.

Tete Jaune resident Leah Bustin noticed the change right away and continues to be upset by the changes, though she believes she’ll get used to it.

She would have liked to be consulted on the changes.

“This is a community issue,” said Bustin. “We all should have been asked. They probably weren’t going to listen to us, but we should have been consulted. They could have pretended to listen to us.”

By the same token, other residents did confirm they were consulted with.