The City of Rossland will reduce fuels and use the debris to create “hugels” like this with support from Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Wildfire Program. (Submitted photo)

Columbia Basin Trust provides $1M to reduce wildfire risks

Community Wildfire Program aimed to help keep people and places safer

The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly rings true in today’s world, even when it’s referring to wildfire mitigation.

That is why Columbia Basin Trust (Trust) announced last week that it is investing $1M cash into reducing fire risks.

“While the ground remains snowy, communities throughout the Columbia Basin are thinking ahead to how they can reduce the risks of wildfires,” the Feb. 12 Trust statement reads.

“Several projects will be helping to keep people and places safer with over $1 million from Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Wildfire Program.”

The City of Rossland received $255,000 to limb and thin trees to reduce the amount of wildfire fuel in 12.5 hectares near the community. Instead of burning or chipping the woody debris, however, workers will create “hugels” to improve the overall health of the forest.

This means the debris will be piled into shallow excavated or natural depressions and then covered with soil, seeds and mulch.

“Hugels build soil, reduce erosion, capture moisture, improve water retention, cycle slow‐release nutrients, retain carbon and create habitat for native vegetation and underground shelter for wildlife, plus will increase the aesthetics and safety of our local trail system,” explained Andrew Bennett, project lead.

“They’re not constrained by the limited season for burn piles, and should cost about the same. Once completed, we will produce replicable templates, such as a how‐to‐hugel guide and a slideshow of lessons learned, so the methods can be used elsewhere in the Basin and B.C.”

Additionally, the successful projects are using innovative methods or spreading the word by educating the public and others.

Another project the immediate area is a collaborative effort in the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK). With a $493,000 grant, the partnership between Creston, Kaslo, Nakusp and the RDCK will use various treatments and methodologies to explore ways to reduce wildfire fuels surrounding their communities.

The findings will then be analyzed to develop prescription guidelines and performance standards that other communities can use and learn from to protect themselves from wildfire.

“The completed pilot projects will directly help mitigate the impacts of wildfire on the communities of Creston, Kaslo and Nakusp,” said Joel Hamilton, wildfire mitigation supervisor.

“They will also demonstrate a high level of collaboration between key players, from municipalities to recreation groups, and provide findings for other communities to potentially benefit from.”

Over in the East Kootenay, the City of Kimberley use its $154,000 grant to develop stand treatments for young conifer plantations near the city to reduce wildfire threats to the community. How to reduce wildfire risk posed by young conifer plantations while building in community resilience and maintaining future timber values is not well understood.

This project will utilize thinning, the removal of thinned materials and prescribed burns to achieve the treatments, and then will assess and report on the treatment viability and effectiveness on various plantations.

Another seven projects are receiving over $127,000 to help communities educate the public about wildfire risks and teach property owners and others about the actions they can take to reduce the impacts of community wildfires.

Those include: $25,000 for the RDEK (Regional District of East Kootenay) to hire a FireSmart coordinator to educate resides on how to reduce wildfire risk on private properties; $26,000 to the City of Nelson to deliver four wildfire education programs; $25,000 for Invermere to hire students to deliver door-to-door FireSmart materials, and have consultants host FireSmart workshops; and $12,000 for the District of Sparwood to appoint a current volunteer firefighter as the FireSmart ambassador.

“Anyone who’s been in the region in the past few years has witnessed how wildfires can choke the air and put communities in danger,” said Johnny Strilaeff, Columbia Basin Trust president and chief executive officer.

“With realities of climate change, these risks are increasing, and communities are prioritizing reducing the impacts of wildfires in the Basin.”

The Trust also provides advice to communities through a wildfire advisor. These projects are in addition to the more than $1.5 million the Trust has already provided since 2012 to help communities prepare for and reduce the risks of wildfires.Columbia Basin Trust supports the ideas and efforts of the people in the Columbia Basin.

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