Taking action to reduce wildfire risks in Columbia Basin

Trust provides over $1 million to address wildfire risks

In this file photo, Rosslander Don Lenarduzzi smiles for the camera as he does his part to firesmart the city. Photo: Bob McQueen

The City of Rossland will spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on fire-proofing the community this year.

It’s one of several projects announced by the Columbia Basin Trust last week to help Kootenay communities reduce fire risks.

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

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Other education and research projects

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The projects are using innovative methods or spreading the word by educating the public and organizations.

Another project 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.”

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 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.

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