Reforestation will take years, following last year’s fires

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A year after the province’s most devastating wildfire season, the work begins on reforestation.

But replacing the trees will be just one of the goals in the coming years.

“We don’t want to be setting up the future for another series of wildfires like what we saw last year,” says John Betts with the Western Forestry Contractors Association, who believes it will take up to four years to reforest what was lost.

He notes that 1.2 million hectares were scorched, and about 220,000 hectares will need to be replanted. That’s almost as much land as covered by Metro Vancouver.

Not all of the new trees will be harvested. He says forests will also be replanted for environmental reasons, like preserving habitat. The planting of trees is also an essential part of the province’s Forest Carbon Initiative, to mitigate climate change.

Which is why it will be important that the seedlings of today don’t go up in smoke prematurely.

“We are going to try to fashion the landscape so we don’t suffer catastrophic losses,” says Betts.

One way is to design forests that are less at risk of catching fire.

Betts points to a tree plantation in northern BC near Mackenzie that is 20 years old. It has withstood forest fires that have swept through the area and he says that’s because it has less underbrush, which translates into fuel for fires, than the surrounding forest.

“Prescribed burning can create a stand of trees that are remarkably resistant to really intense fires,” he says, admitting, though, that controlled burning has fallen out of favour because people complain about the smoke.

“We can also plant other species. There may be cases where we want to make sure that we have strong plantations of deciduous trees because they are less flammable. They might actually work as a fuel break. They might actually stop a fire from running from one end to the other.”

He says both the province and Ottawa could invest more money in studying ways to create more resilient forests, rather than spend money on firefighting.

This year, his industry will see 270 million seedlings in the ground and that should increase to 300 million seedlings in 2020.

Mother Nature has already prevented a quick start to this planting season. A big snowpack and washed out roads meant tree planters had to wait before starting their work.

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