A New Area of Focus: Wildfire Risk Reduction Pilot Project

A New Area of Focus

In 2022 Farmland Advantage (FLA) expanded to begin a wildfire risk reduction pilot project, funded by the Government of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests. Support from the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) is focused on reducing wildfire risk and increasing community resiliency to wildfires across British Columbia. At the end of this pilot, the FLA team hopes to have increased the resiliency of landscapes within the treatment areas.

Five sites totaling 380 hectares have been identified and selected for treatment. Each site has been selected for its potential to mitigate the risk of wildfire in the immediate and adjacent areas.  Work has been ongoing to connect with agricultural landowners where sites have been selected. The final details are being ironed out now, with work on the selected sites commencing this spring.

Site Selection

The five sites were selected through FLA’s site selection process.  For the wildfire risk reduction pilot project, our goal is to reduce wildfire risk within regions that have been previously identified as “hot spots” for Species at Risk and for other Ecological values.

Following the extensive GIS mapping, technical experts reviewed the data and selected the wildfire pilot project sites based on the Hot-Spot analysis and other factors, including proximity to urban areas and rural infrastructure, threat rating, and relation and proximity to other wildfire risk reduction work in the regions.

Of the five sites selected, three are in the Cariboo, one is in Thompson-Okanagan-Nicola, and one is in the Kootenays.

Making a Plan

After a site was selected, an FLA Advisor visited to create a site prescription: a plan detailing various actions that can be taken to reduce fuel load on the property. While FLA Advisors provide site prescriptions for grasslands and grazing, forestry prescriptions are handled slightly differently. As well as the assessment done by the FLA Advisor, a second site assessment is completed by a Registered Professional Forester who provides a prescription for how to reduce forest (wood) fuels. Those two plans are integrated with the landowner’s input. FLA then works with local forest service partners and directly with the landowner to carry out the prescribed actions.

In the wildfire risk reduction pilot project, each site has been visited by an FLA Planning Advisor and a Registered Professional Forester, and an individual treatment plan has been created. These plans will be carried out in the coming year.

Wildfire Risk Reduction Actions

Each site prescription includes various actions that can be taken to reduce fuel load on the property. Although each site requires different specific actions based on its individual natural makeup, most of the actions being taken fall under a larger umbrella of ‘fuel management’.

Fuel management is pretty much what it sounds like – managing the amount of fuel, things like grasses, timber, and trees, available to be consumed by a wildfire. When done with wildfire risk reduction in mind, actions can be concentrated to reduce the fuel load. Altering the forest in this way interrupts the fuel continuity and can prevent, mitigate, or slow a fire. This also may provide “defensible” areas where fire fighters could safely position themselves to fight a fire.

Fuel management in FLA’s Wildfire Risk Reduction Pilot project begins in forested areas through tree stand thinning and pruning by forestry professionals. Surface material, such as smaller woody plants and shrubs, are also given this treatment. After the thinning and pruning is complete, debris is piled and disposed of through pile burning, which prevents the debris from drying and being used as wildfire fuel later. This generally occurs before grazing, as it opens the forest and can assist with grass growth.

Grazing is another effective technique for fuel reduction and management. When grasses and low-lying small plants dry out, they become fine kindling which a fire can burn across rapidly. To manage the amount of fuel on the selected sites, FLA is conducting targeted grazing, which involves using permanent and mobile fencing to have livestock graze specific areas, at specific times, to reduce the amount of fuel and reduce wildfire risk.

Forests and Grasslands Together

Forests and grasslands are often treated as separate entities, but in BC it is typical for ranchland and rangeland to have both forests and grasslands interplaying throughout the landscape. Their fuel management techniques also work together. Once work in a wooded area has been completed, grazing can help maintain that treatment and prevent forest encroachment onto the grassland.

There are existing programs and processes to reduce forest fuel load on Crown Land, but private landowners lack opportunities to do this scale of risk reduction. Forestry work in particular can be extremely cost prohibitive. Targeted grazing for wildfire risk reduction has been recently piloted across BC on Crown land but is also something that has not previously been financially supported on private land. This makes this pilot project a unique initiative, and Farmland Advantage is thrilled to be taking a lead on piloting this approach.

FLA believes that by working with landowners to reduce wildfire risk through a coordinated approach of forest thinning/pruning with targeting grazing we can achieve a substantial reduction in wildfire threat in these strategic areas, which are “holes” in the Crown land treatments, while also increasing the knowledge of our program, the landowners we work with and project partners on how to apply Targeted Grazing for Wildfire Risk Reduction.

Samantha Charlton, Project Manager, Wildfire Risk Reduction Pilot Project

More about FLA

Farmland Advantage is a research and development program that works with farmers to protect and conserve critical, natural lands, streams, and habitats in British Columbia. Farmland Advantage helps farmers identify the natural values on their land that can be protected and enhanced; and develops recommendations and plans to preserve them.

Farmland Advantage takes a regional approach to address environmental and climate concerns. Using site selection methodology that is unique to an area’s specific challenges (e.g., wildfire, drought, or flooding), Farmland Advantage targets farms that have the potential to improve the health of the ecosystem in the immediate and surrounding areas.

Support for the Wildfire Risk Reduction Pilot project has been provided by the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests. Support from the BC Wildfire Service is focused on reducing wildfire risk and increasing community resiliency to wildfires across British Columbia.

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