North Vancouver District working to undercut wildfires
Residents of North Vancouver’s Seymour Heights neighbourhood may soon hear the whirr and whine of chainsaws and wood chippers in the trail-lined forest behind their homes.
But not to panic; the job’s been hired out by District of North Vancouver staff as part of a plan to prevent wildfires in the area.
Approximately 20 acres of district-owned forest lands known as Hyannis Park will be selectively cut, chipped and much of it hauled away before the migratory-bird nesting season begins next month.
The lands butt up against approximately three dozen homes along Hyannis Drive, Hyannis Point and Hill Drive, and also contain a water supply reservoir and a busy trail system the district is eager to protect.
Their plan is to remove and destroy those smaller coniferous trees that don’t reach the higher canopy; trees that tend to act as “ladder fuel,” connecting flames on the ground with the upper boughs in wildfire situations, according to district forester Mark Brown.
“The vegetation we target is the small-diameter understory trees,” Brown told The Outlook in a phone interview.
Those trees are often dry and dying because the larger trees have soaked up all the sun and moisture before it can reach the forest floor.
In addition, whichever contractor the district hires to clear the understory will also be tasked with pruning back some branches in the canopy, further breaking the ladder effect, and fully removing some of the larger dead trees which could pose a fall risk to joggers, hikers and bikers in the area.
Once cleared, much of the ladder wood will be mulched for use on local trails, while the understory is replaced with less combustible varieties of deciduous — or, leafy — saplings, as opposed to the prominent dry-needled varieties of hemlock and dwarf mistletoe there today. And where the soil has been disturbed, workers will plant native shrubs and ferns.
“The target replacement species aren’t really as flammable because they’re green during the growing season,” Brown said. “And the fern fronds are so biodegradable they disappear into the forest floor really rapidly — they rot right down and hold the moisture.”
The district’s fire management program stems from a 2008 pilot targeting 20 acres of Grousewoods Park. Since then, two other fuel mitigation projects measuring 15 and 20 acres apiece have met with success, with the province providing 90 per cent of the program’s funding and the district chipping in the rest.
But the work slated for next season may yet prove the largest test of the program’s efficacy. That’s when the District is proposing to clear a 99-hectare fire break along its urban-woodland border, tying in where possible with the previously cleared BC Hydro transmission corridors.
Later this year, forestry technicians will map and temporarily mark off those areas being considered for the district-wide buffer zone.
“If a particular homeowner is concerned about privacy screening or some other issue we haven’t anticipated in the development of the prescription, they can bring that forward and usually there’s enough flexibility in the program to accommodate those kinds of issues,” Brown said. “The residents have been super, super supportive. They see the benefit to them in protecting their real-estate and the homes in the community — and also protecting the forest.”