Aerial view of two dirt roads crossing in a forest. An official looking car is there

Here’s how Sunshine Coast Community Forest is reducing its wildfire risk

Editor’s note: A model for addressing wildfire risk, seems similar to what the SRD is doing on Cortes.

By Jordan Copp, Coast Reporter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With more than 400 active wildfires currently burning in B.C., the Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) is implementing a new resiliency plan in the event of a major fire in its tenure area. 

Sunshine Coast Community Forest has established a Wildfire Resiliency Plan in partnership with Frontera Forest Solutions, SCCF announced last month.

The three-phase plan focuses on identifying key infrastructure to be protected, as well as reducing excess fuels within the community forest, with opportunities to receive public input.

Phase 1 of the project involved fuel management planning using data from the SCRD Community Wildfire Protection Plan and information from the community forest. This information is used to identify different sections of the forest, such as old growth stands or other ecologically significant areas. The information will be used to create a burn model, which will show what sections of the forest are more susceptible to wildfires and will identify key areas within the forest. 

Sunshine Coast Community Forest executive director, Sarah Zieleman explained that wildfire mitigation planning, “is not just about where you can reduce the risks at some spot in the forest, it’s where it’s going to have a really meaningful impact to the community. So where do you want to protect water infrastructure or community buildings?”

Phase 2 is the identification of proposed and prioritized mitigation projects. This is when the field team will ground truth the data collected from software, ensuring that the recommendations based off of the data make sense, and confirm the validity of the data collected. 

Warren Hansen, operations manager of Sunshine Coast Community Forest, explained the assets identified for protection are critical infrastructures that if damaged by a fire will have long lasting impacts on the community. “It’s critical infrastructure like cell towers, hydro lines or physical infrastructure, water treatment plants, intakes, things like that,” he said. 

The fieldwork was completed last week, and the report will be finalized in the next few months.

Phase 3 of the project is when the proposed mitigation projects will be presented to the public, explaining why these projects are recommended and how they would help reduce risk.

Zieleman said when the community forest started working with Fontera Forest Solutions, she set the expectation that the community cares deeply about how the forests around them are managed and that they want the public to be involved in the decision making. 

“We hope that we’re able to identify some projects where we’re able to make a difference to risks – that people actually want,” she said. 

Bill Hardy, a member of the community advisory panel, said he has heard fuel mitigation success stories from firefighters in Kelowna, where areas that previously received fuel treatment have been successful in reducing the vigour of the fire.

Hardy also mentioned that the community forest is looking at establishing a FireSmart demonstration forest area, where the public can see what a forest looks like when prescribed treatment has taken place.

“You could take tours or tours with children and just learn about fire and how to mitigate the latter fuels for example,” he said.  

Top image credits: A new wildfire resilience plan has been put in place – Xuanyu Han / Moment / Getty Images

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