Scientists in FPInnovations’ wildfire operations research and fibre-supply are combining their expertise in a joint research project with the city of Quesnel, B.C., funded in part by the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia, to better understand how harvesting techniques can reduce hazardous vegetative fuel to lower the threat of catastrophic wildfires near urban areas while preserving a forest’s ecosystem.
The research site is adjacent to the Quesnel Airport in a heavily-treed area with organic material above, beneath and on the forest floor, making it a rich forest-fuel environment. FPInnovations’ involvement is part of its broader work on wildfire research.
Researchers Steven Hvenegaard and Marian Marinescu were on-site recently to establish forest-fuel inventory plots over the 29-hectare area. The pre-harvest fuel inventory is being followed-up by a study of the harvesting and forwarding productivity led by researcher Peter Dyson. Once completed, the project’s findings will contribute to the knowledge of predicting the spread and intensity of potential wildfires in the woodland site.
“The forest fuel treatment in this environment uses an innovative combination of timber-harvesting techniques and surface-fuel reduction methods,” explains Hvenegaard. “We will document all phases of the project to assess changes in the fuel environment and their impact on potential fire behaviour.”
Hvenegaard and Marinescu captured data on ground, surface and aerial forest fuel layers, which contribute to fire behaviour. Fine fuels, such as needle litter on the surface layer, can create a high potential for ignition from natural or human causes. Light flashy fuels, such as grass, feathermoss and lichens, combined with medium-sized fuels, such as dead and down debris, can cause fires on the surface layer to spread to ladder fuels, such as lower branches, and start a crown fire.
Wildfire research more relevant than ever
“Studies like this are growing in relevance due to the continuing threat of wildfire to communities and the need to conduct fuel treatments in the wildland-urban interface in a cost-effective manner,” says Hvenegaard. “Documenting this fuel treatment will inform fuels managers on the value of these fuel-treatment techniques in achieving community protection goals.”
Members of the Kluskus and Esk’etemc First Nations assisted with the pre-harvest assessment protocols with the goal of undertaking fire-mitigation projects in their respective communities. Their participation was made possible in part by FPInnovations’ B.C. Indigenous Forest Sector Technical Support Program.
As part of the forest-fuel treatment plan, the rare practice of piling merchantable stems on one side of the thinning trails and branch stems, tops and non-merchantable pieces on the other side, is being used. The usual method is to place stems and branches in front of the machine to act as a brush mat. Capturing the additional time the harvester takes to complete the task will be part of assessing harvester productivity, whereas removing the non-merchantable pieces with a forwarder will provide information on productivity and operator techniques.
FPInnovations’ research on wildfire operations explores new approaches to fuel management that allow communities to invest in effective fuel-treatment plans. For more information on the Quesnel airport project or the company`s wildfire research, please contact Greg Baxter.