Wetzin'kwa Community Forest Corporation (WCFC) Wildfire Risk Reduction Plan

In 2018, with funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia (FESBC), the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Corporation (WCFC), developed a Strategic Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Plan (SWHMP) and Tactical Plan to address the increasing concerns of wildfire in the Bulkley Valley, in the northwest central interior of British Columbia. The objective of this plan was to build a framework for incorporating fire and fuel management planning into the community forest’s operational activities and work towards implementing wildfire risk reduction actions, as well as providing a baseline analysis of wildfire risk. As a result of the SWHMP, a shaded fuel break was proposed along a key piece of local infrastructure, Hudson Bay Mountain Road, in Smithers, BC.

WCFC is a for-profit legal entity that operates a community forest tenure for the direct long-term benefit of the residents of the Bulkley Valley. WCFC is operated by a seven member volunteer Board of Directors, with three permanent positions held by the Town of Smithers, the Village of Telkwa, and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the remaining positions made up of the community at large. Day-to-day operations and management is completed by Silvicon Services Inc., a forestry consultant firm based out of Smithers, BC. Wetzin’kwa, the Wet’suwet’en word used in the corporate name, refers to the Morice and Bulkley rivers and means blue-green water. The Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Agreement is an area-based forest tenure and was awarded on January 1, 2007, by the provincial government. The tenure is held by three towns, and gives the communities a greater share of both the responsibility and the benefits of local forest management. WCFC has managed a profitable community forest tenure while providing good forest management stewardship that will sustain forest resource values for future generations.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Wetzin’kwa Community Forest is near the Town of Smithers. Climate change has exacerbated wildfire threats in many communities in BC including within the Bulkley Valley. Under the right conditions, a fire could result and put community values and property at risk.

For residents of the Bulkley Valley, Hudson Bay Mountain Road is a key piece of local infrastructure and its protection helps to ensure protection of local values. The road provides vital connection to recreational areas for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and a variety of other activities, and allows for access to the local ski hill, Hudson Bay Mountain Resort, and the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre. Hudson Bay Mountain is home to functional subalpine and alpine ecosystems from grizzly bears and mountain goats to endangered Whitebark pine and is an iconic landscape feature in the Bulkley Valley and in the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest.

WCFC’s SWHMP and Tactical Plan indicate the need for the development of several wildfire reduction measures known as “prescriptions” due to the identification of several targeted stand types.

BC Wildfire Services fire weather stations indicate that during core fire season, prevailing peak burn wind directions could produce high head fire intensities and aggressive fire behaviour due to the current stand composition and structure along Hudson Bay Mountain Road. The alignment of critical winds and the presence of hazardous stand types makes the establishment of a fuel break a high priority to reduce the risk of wildfire to the community of Smithers. Additionally, maintaining the Hudson Bay Mountain Road corridor will be critical to support evacuation efforts from rural areas due to the presence of high public use areas during the fire season, as well as to support suppression efforts.

For additional climate information, look at the Resources section of this example (below).

Identifying Actions

Working towards reducing the wildfire threat on the land base is a priority for WCFC. As a result of the SWHMP and the field data collected, three wildfire risk reduction prescriptions were developed which would create a shaded fuel break along Hudson Bay Mountain Road. The primary goal of this shaded fuel break is to improve public safety by altering forest fuels adjacent to primary access and egress routes in the community forest. Secondary objectives include the protection of critical infrastructure (transmission lines, radio towers, Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre Trails, etc.) that occur within or adjacent to the identified treatment units. Ancillary benefits of WRR treatments include improvements to firefighter safety during suppression activities, as well as reductions in spotting potential adjacent to private land parcels and mountain resort infrastructure. These prescriptions would be carried out in three phases over three years and began in 2021.

Implementation

The area within the fuel break was stratified into treatment units based on stand type, magnitude and distribution of fuel loads present, and the threat of wildfire to assets at risk. Within each treatment unit, different treatments were prescribed and have been designed to reduce fire behaviour potential within that area. These treatments include thinning stands to reduce stand density, pruning to reduce ladder fuels and reducing surface fuel loads by piling and burning.

In 2020, WCFC applied for funding through BC Wildfire Service’s Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction (CLWRR) program, administered through the BC Community Forest Association (BCCFA), to develop three prescriptions, the goal of which was to establish the shaded fuel break. Funding was also provided by the Mountain Resorts Branch to help cover a small portion of the fuel break which is located outside of the community forest.

In the fall of 2021, Wetzin’kwa was able to treat 35ha of the shaded fuel break and phase 1 of the project was brought to completion in the fall of 2022 with the help of local contractors including a Wet’suwet’en owned and operated company.

In 2022, fuel break treatments continued and an additional 6.6ha has been completed.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

To date, 40.8ha of the fuel break has been completed and approximately 300ha will be completed over the course of the next several years by WCFC in conjunction with Ministry of Forests and BC Wildfire Representatives. Fuel hazard assessments were completed post treatment by field crews to determine if fuel targets for each treatment unit were met. The challenges to this project are the unknowns of fire behaviour, the lack of contractor availability, and the fuel-loading differences between stand types and as a result of different treatments.

The area along Hudson Bay Mountain Road was targeted for fuel management due to the hazardous stand types in the area, the proximity to the town of Smithers, the protection of local assets and fire weather stations indicating the increased risk of wildfire. There is always the challenge to know exactly where wildfire will occur, when it will occur and how it will behave. However, the prescriptions implemented through this project will at the very least help to mitigate the risk of wildfire.

Next Steps

In 2023 WCFC will continue fuel break treatments along Hudson Bay Mountain Road while maintaining continuity with the area treated in 2021 and 2022. This project is ongoing, and the community forest is currently looking into sources for funding to bring these prescriptions to completion over the next several years. Wetzin’kwa works together with provincial and local organizations to improve community resiliency and protect important community values and is very grateful to the BCCFA and BC Wildfire Service for their support, and to the province for their funding of this essential project.

Resources

Link to Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

Additional Climate Information:

Using climate change projections enables better adaptation decisions, as it allows you to better understand how the climate may change. To learn how to choose, access, and understand climate data, visit ClimateData.ca’s Learning Zone 

Visit ClimateData.ca and click “Explore by Variable” for future climate projections related to temperature and precipitation, which can be used to inform adaptation planning.