Photo:Vine Creek prescribed burn spring 2016//B Covey
A few miles east of town, up the Jacques Creek drainage, there is a grey rock band on the northwest side of Cinquefoil Mountain. It’s in the subalpine and it’s fairly nondescript. Unless you’re making your way to the Alpine Club of Canada hut on Mount Colin, you’d hardly notice it.
But local fire fighters know the spot well. Parks Canada Initial Attack Fire Crew members spent more than a week there during the winter of 2008, holed up in a wall tent, monitoring the prescribed burns that eventually helped restore more than 330 hectares of open, montane grasslands, contributed to future wildfire control and assisted in efforts to slow the eastward spread of mountain pine beetle. Later that same winter, they were taking shelter from nasty December winds during another prescribed burn along the Celestine Lake Road, near the aptly named Windy Point.
That was 10 years ago. I remember in 2006 being introduced to the concept of Firesmart by local fire and vegetation specialists. At the time, work was focused around Lake Edith and the Sawridge Hotel.
If you hike up the Pyramid Bench towards Cabin Lake, you can see the Jasper Community Fireguard, an area cleared of vegetation to provide a fuel break and a line of defence from which crews can carry out actions to control a wildfire. Parks Canada’s fire crew has maintained this barrier through manual forest thinning since 2004. And while it’s true that scheduled mechanized forest thinning did not get completed last fall and that there may be a case to be made that Parks Canada should have pulled the trigger while the short weather window allowed it, mechanical thinning has been creating conditions for safer, more efficient prescribed fires on the Pyramid Bench for most of the past decade.
It seems to me—a layperson, at best—that, contrary to the shouts on local social media and even in regional mainstream coverage, progressive, science-based forest management as it relates to wildfires has been actively taking place in Jasper National Park for a very long time. While it’s easy to look at the “matchstick” forest which surrounds us and imagine the worst, it’s important to remember Jasper has always been a community surrounded by flammable timber and that local experts have every summer had little else on their mind than ensuring we have a proper response plan in place, one which scales up or down depending on forest conditions.
It’s also useful to consider that in British Columbia, where fires have caused evacuations of entire communities, those communities still stand and thrive today. Vanderhoof had a 10,000 hectare fire in 2004; 14 years later it is not a ghost town. Last year was a record fire year in B.C. While it was certainly traumatic for those communities affected, the big takeaway for emergency response officials is that no lives were lost due to the wildfires.
These are significant counterpoints to the sky-is-falling mentality we’re easily duped by thanks to social media and a few “experts” being quoted in the news. For the record, forest professionals are not wildfire specialists. Their opinions should only carry so much water.
So douse those anxieties about having to inevitably return to a burned out shell of a town. Cool those heels in the fact that Jasper has an entire suite of response mechanisms to manage the threat of wildfires. That’s not to say don’t be prepared if the worst does happen—quite the opposite, in fact. It is absolutely critical that each of us are Wildfire Ready. If you’re reading this online, the information is right here.
Because being wildfire prepared is much different than being wildfire scared. Just ask any of your fire fighter friends.
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org