Archive for the 'forest' Category

A wildfire warning

By Tom Read

Here's a small part of the Cranby Creek fire zone. You can see that most trees weren't seriously damaged, but that's only because we were lucky that the fire hit when there was still enough moisture in the ground.

Here's a small part of the Cranby Creek fire zone. You can see that most trees weren't seriously damaged, but that's only because we were lucky that the fire hit when there was still enough moisture in the ground.

Back in the late summer of 2006, Texadans fought side-by-side with provincial firefighters to put down an accidentally caused wildfire that could have resulted in widespread destruction if it had successfully migrated from an open field into the forest. That was a very dry year, and capricious winds kept the fire alive as an unpredictable threat right up until overwhelming force arrived in the form of two quarry water tankers and a corps of local volunteers. We were lucky; it was a close call.

Last weekend, another wildfire hit Texada.  Located near the headwaters of Cranby Creek, this fire jumped immediately from a clearing near a dwelling on private property directly into the public’s forest. The cause is under investigation, particularly since nobody has admitted to starting the fire. Ambiguity has fueled fierce rumour and innuendo heard all over the island; dark speculations but no proof. This isn’t healthy for our community, and it’s quite unfair to anyone being targeted by such speculation. I know we can do better than this, but that’s a topic for another post.

Meanwhile, as in 2006, Texada volunteers responded admirably to the fire alarm, including the Gillies Bay Volunteer Fire Department, JMG Logging (water tanker) and Wallmer Bobcat Service (backhoe). Provincial firefighters came through as well, including air crews flying two fixed-wing fire retardant bombers and a water-dumping helicopter, plus an experienced team on the ground. After about eight acres of a steep, forested, rocky hillside had burned, the firefighter’s coordinated efforts first contained, then knocked out this fire. The drama lasted about five hours.

The next day I spoke with members of the mop-up crew, who had come from Port Alberni to help fight the fire when it broke out on Saturday afternoon. “We were lucky here,” said a sweat-soaked young man who had been digging out and extinguishing hotspots among still-smoking tree roots. “This was a classic surface fire, where the flames never got higher than my shoulder,” he said. “The amount of moisture in the ground meant that the fire had to use most of its energy to burn off water, so it never got into the tree tops. Mostly, it just singed the trees and destroyed a lot of undergrowth.”

He added that the mid-sized and large trees should not suffer any permanent damage, and the burning of undergrowth and old deadwood on the forest floor will actually help reduce future risk of a catastrophic wildfire on these relatively few acres.  But 2009 is already shaping up as a dry year for Texada, and we may not be so lucky next time. If this fire had occurred on a windy day in August, after months of little rain, events might have unfolded quite differently.

These dangerous events are foreseeable, if not exactly predictable as to time and place. What are we doing as individuals and as a community to prepare for wildfires? I know we haven’t done enough at our house to protect ourselves; our current plan would mostly amount to safe evacuation. But what about our community? Does anyone have a copy of the Texada Emergency Preparation Plan? What does it say about coordinating emergency response and follow-up in the event of a truly wild fire in the forest?  I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out and report back in a future post.

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Seven sunny days

Where's the rain?  It's starting to feel a little like a drought might be headed our way.  Here's the forecast for the coming week for Texada/Powell River

Where's the rain? It's starting to feel a little like a drought might be headed our way. Here's the forecast for the coming week for Texada/Powell River

By Tom Read

Our local weather forecast from Environment Canada shows a string of sunny days reaching into the future. Spring weather predictions are notoriously unreliable, but if we get all this warm sunshine, we’ll need to get busy in the garden, weeding and prepping beds for May planting. And the bees will be busy, I hope, so they’ll need some attention, too. Not to mention the chickens, which we let out to go walkabout every afternoon when it’s nice weather. They’re always back waiting for their evening snack by 5 or 6, then have to be tucked in for the night.

We’re still waiting for one of the hens – any one! – to go broody and start sitting on a clutch of eggs to ensure our next generation of chicken for the freezer. The rooster crows earlier every morning it seems, especially with all these bright days that start peeking out around the darkness way too early.

There’s some not-so-great parts to all this sunshine, though. The rain gauge in our garden seems stuck at about 1.5 inches for the whole month of April. Let there be no doubt: we’re too dry for this time of year. The implications for our homestead, for Texada Island and for the region include:

— barbeque season will be short, while irrigation season will be long;

— we’ll make a lot of solar power at our homestead during the day, but little or no micro-hydro (which operates 24/7) once the creek gets too dry, so we’ll have to burn propane in our back-up generator to make up the shortfall in electricity production. And propane costs a whole lot more than “free” microhydro;

— due to our decreased electricity production in the months ahead, we’ll probably have to shut down our freezer until the rains return sometime in the fall;

— some people with shallow wells aren’t going to have enough water this year;

— the forest will become “tinder dry” as they say, with water-stressed trees and increased fire danger;

I could go on and on about the implications of too little water for our area. Consider, however, that drought is affecting the world’s industrial food-growing areas as well. We’re fortunate that our creeks and rivers still have any water at all, because many other regions have little or none. “Resilience” is not an abstract concept, it’s a necessity. We live on an island on this sphere called “Earth,” and we are about to get a lesson in how to cope with multiple shocks to our too-comfortable, industrial-based, supposedly non-negotiable way of life.

The oft-repeated S-word can be cynical flim-flam

Malaspina Strait from Stillwater Bluffs, where forest meets seashore.

Malaspina Strait from Stillwater Bluffs, where forest meets seashore.

When a forest of say 75 acres is destroyed by clear-cut logging, eliminated are countless, perhaps thousands of birds, mammals and amphibians — from canopy-dwelling thrushes to tree frogs to bats and squirrels — and gone is the habitat that supported them. The sheer number of individual critters bumps up a few orders of magnitude when the insects, slugs, centipedes and spiders are counted. Then there are the micro-organisms in the millions, and billions of bacteria and similar life forms.

Now consider the plant life. Thousands of towering trees are executed and trucked far away to be converted to money and other useful things. Pulverized in this primary timber harvest are the epiphytic ferns, lichens, fungi and mosses which drape on, cling to and beautify the trees where they find moisture and sustenance for life. Ground down and ground up are the shrubs and berries of the under-storey and the wildflowers of the forest floor in their hundreds and hundreds of species. These plants of the forest have evolved by necessity to be shade-tolerant and moisture retentive.

British Columbia has the greatest diversity of plants in Canada. B.C. has up to 800 identifiable species of moss, alone. How many of them were growing in that 75 acre forest that is now the silenced and flattened landscape left behind by the BC loggers today? Could any but a very few survive the glaring sun and harsh exposure of an instant clear-cut? Nature will do her best to heal the wounds and restore a balance over years and years of time. But how many ‘crops’ can be harvested before a healthy forest cannot recover? How long can land subjected to take-it-all and no give-back endure the one sided equation? How can the destruction of an ecosystem be called sustainable forestry? Yet that’s what is claimed by the BC forest industry in the double-speak world we live in today.

It is time to put the term ‘sustainability’ in its proper context: buzzword of the decade. As such, it has a diminishing shelf life and one day it will be regarded as quaint and naive. Sustainability, as a concept, has caught the popular imagination, which is understandable, but it is a sort of inflated myth, destined to fall to earth as the uncertain future progresses. I’m not saying the notion is worthless; it’s just that a ‘sustainable’ plan of action or set of policies assumes a future level of stability or predictability that simply doesn’t exist. The skills most needed by an ever-changing society will be adaptability and a complex of survival strategies.


Post facto

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