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Westbank First Nation doing its part to reduce threat of wildfires

Click to play video: 'Westbank First Nation has treated more than 400 hectares of forested land in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire' Westbank First Nation has treated more than 400 hectares of forested land in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire
Westbank First Nation has treated more than 400 hectares of forested land in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire – Oct 4, 2019

The Okanagan is all too familiar with the devastation caused by wildfires.

With the exception of 2019, the valley has been hard hit by raging wildfires in recent years.

READ MORE: Pressure mounts for province to do more fuel mitigation on crown land

While more and more fuel modification projects are being undertaken across the valley, one group that’s really proactive is Westbank First Nation (WFN).

“As a holder of (a logging licence), WFN also has a social responsibility for those who live around the licence,” said Dave Gill, general manager for Ntityix Resources, a WFN-owned forestry company.

WFN is currently conducting fuel modification work on 14 hectares of crown land just west of Peachland, around the Silver Lake Forestry Centre.

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“This is a huge peace of mind; makes me rest a lot easier and not worry as much,” said Russ Paton, general manager of Silver Lake Forest Education Society.

WFN holds a community forest licence for the area and is in the process of treating the land to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Controlled burns are a big part of the fuel modification work being done by the Westbank First Nation. Global News

“What we do is we come in, take out all of the smaller diameter trees, leave the larger diameter trees, buck everything up, pile it, burn it and rake up a lot of the ground fuels, too,” said Mic Werstuik, a forestry contractor.

READ MORE: West Kelowna wants more money from province for wildfire prevention

The area has never before had any fuel modification and the build-up of fuel was significant.

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“Before we came through, there was probably three feet of slash here,” Werstuik said.

This image shows how dense and deep the fuel build-up was before fuel modification work in the Silver Lake camp area. Global News

The provincially-funded work includes controlled burns of ground fuel, branch pruning and tree felling — efforts expected to reduce the magnitude of a wildfire should one sweep through the area.

“It’s going to stay down on the ground, it’s not going to get up in the trees and crown and be unpredictable,” Werstuik said.

Once completed, the treated land gives fire crews a better chance of fighting any potential wildfires.

“When the pilots are flying it and dropping retardant it’s much more effective that retardant can get all the way to the ground. And by opening up the (forest) stand you allow that to happen,” Gill said.

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Click to play video: 'Forestry experts call for more controlled burning in BC to reduce risk of wildfire' Forestry experts call for more controlled burning in BC to reduce risk of wildfire
Forestry experts call for more controlled burning in BC to reduce risk of wildfire – Oct 16, 2018

Since 2014, WFN has treated more than 400 hectares of crown land, including a number of areas close to residential properties.

“This type of work will slow down the rate of spread of a wildfire and it will save homes,” Gill said.

While the work can produce a lot of smoke, Gill said more and more people are realizing it’s necessary and outweighs the alternative.

“The public is becoming educated that this kind of work has to be done,” Gill said.

“This kind of work creates smoke. People don’t like smoke, so do we do a little bit of smoke under controlled, or do we wait for a massive wildfire to come through and produce smoke for the month of August like it did last year.”

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Gill said once an area has been treated, maintenance work may be required every five to 10 years.

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