Climate Change Adaptation in Action in the Harrop-Procter Community Forest

In 2016, the Harrop-Procter Community Forest began implementing an adaptive forest management plan to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as wildfires and drought. The Harrop-Procter Community Forest, managed by the Harrop-Procter Community Cooperative (HPCC), is an ~11,300-hectare forest in southeastern British Columbia. To understand and prioritize adaption actions for the next 20-40 years, HPCC conducted a climate change risk assessment on the community forest. Climate models revealed that the region is expected to become warmer and drier, with dry areas near the community, old forests, creek headwaters, and timber at high risk of drought and wildfire. To manage risk, an operations strategy that focused on resisting wildfires and realigning forests to become more climate-resilient was implemented. The resist strategy focused on fuel treatment, implementing fire guards, and ensuring fire suppression access points. The realign strategy focused on removing drought-sensitive species through cutting, piling, and burning, and promoting drought-resilient and deciduous species. HPCC is continuing to execute the operations strategy while also considering the future of their timber management plan to ensure it aligns with realistic harvest targets in a changing climate.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Harrop-Procter Community Forest is comprised of primarily 100- to 120-year-old mixed coniferous forests. The region has experienced ~1.6°C increase in average annual temperature since 1913 and increased spring stream flows and decreased summer stream flows over the past 40 years. Additionally, the forest has been experiencing wildfires, including two major events in 2003 and 2017. Climate modelling outputs were obtained from Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) for various future emission scenarios (A2 moderate emissions where emissions eventually increase, A1B moderate emissions where emissions eventually decrease, and B1 low emissions where emissions eventually decrease) for the 2050s and 2080s. Projections reveal that over the next 30-60 years, fall, winter, and spring could be 2-5°C warmer and 10-25% wetter. Summer could be 3-7°C warmer and up to 30% drier. As a result of drier and warmer summers, the forest could experience ~5-15 times more average annual area burned by wildfires. There is also expected to be an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme events including heavy precipitation.

To prioritize adaptation actions for the next 20-40 years, HPCC conducted a climate change risk assessment. The probability of wildfire and drought was assessed for each stand in the community forest based on terrain, ecosystem classifications, Vegetation Resource Inventory, and LiDAR interpretations. Fire and drought probabilities were then reassessed for 2055 and 2085 using cumulative moisture deficit data from the BC Ministry of Forests. The consequences of potential fire and/or drought to key community values such as homes, water, biodiversity, and timber were independently mapped. Relative risk ratings were assigned by combining probabilities and consequences. The highest risks and priority areas identified were drier areas near the community, headwaters areas with high fire likelihood, old forests on drier sites, and accessible timber stands on drier sites.


Identifying Actions

The results from the risk assessment informed the operations strategy and management plan. The operations strategy had two primary focuses: resistance and realignment. The resistance strategy focuses on wildfire protection through fuel breaks, protecting old forests, riparian areas, and headwaters areas. While resisting wildfire is critical to attempt to sequester carbon in the forest, the forest already reached its likely carbon carrying capacity in 2003, and since then, carbon has been released by major wildfires and pine beetle infestations. As carbon cannot be stored everywhere, in places where resistance is not feasible, the forest is realigned. The realignment strategy focuses on changing the forest structure to increase resilience and creating new stocking standards with lower densities and deciduous trees, while focusing on lower elevation forest types.


Several fuel treatment strategies were executed to carry out the resistance operations strategy. Machine guards and hand guards, which are strategically constructed barriers to stop or slow the spread of fire and promote fire suppression, were created or reinforced. Old roads and helipads were also proactively reopened or built to increase fire suppression access points in anticipation of a fire. To carry out the realignment operations strategy, HPCC focused on realigning drought-prone sites, such as 100-year-old stands comprised of species like cedar and hemlock, which are less viable in a changing climate. High-risk cedar and hemlock were removed by partial cutting while drought-tolerant trees such as larch Douglas-fir and western larch were retained. Other realignment strategies included developing partial cut stocking standards, meaning implementation of partially-shaded fuel breaks that do not require restocking, and also developing even-aged stocking standards, where the forest is significantly transformed / realigned to encourage deciduous tree growth and lower conifer densities.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The resist and realignment operations strategies are generating positive results. A network of fuel breaks is mostly completed, and several areas have been realigned to encourage watershed resilience. The operations strategy is ongoing and HPCC has received funding to continue wildfire risk reduction work in 2023.

The final step in the current project is reviewing timber supply scenarios and reassessing harvest levels. HPCC is updating the timber supply review for the community forest and changing assumptions related to wildfire, beetle, and growth losses.

Next Steps

Throughout the project, community outreach and engagement has been critical. Major wildfires in 2003 and 2017 have driven strong interest and support for the project from the community. HPCC has developed several educational videos about climate change and wildfire protection, and they give frequent presentations and updates about the project. They are also currently working on a handbook describing the project.