Logging on Kelowna’s South Slopes will create park-like setting and ward off wildfires - InfoNews

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Logging on Kelowna’s South Slopes will create park-like setting and ward off wildfires

Julius Huhs, Land and Resource Coordinator for the Okanagan-Shuswap Regional District, explains how severely thinning a forest creates many benefits, not just fire prevention.
March 21, 2019 - 2:59 PM

KELOWNA - When government agencies go to work thinning out the forest near urban areas, they don’t fool around.

One example is a new project in the South Slopes of Kelowna.

In the last two weeks, crews from Gorman Bros. Lumber have thinned out a 10-hectare patch of forest above June Spring Roads to the point where there are only about 75 trees per hectare, versus the 900 to 1,500 that were there before.

A hectare is about the size of a football field so the wide spacing of trees gives an impression more of a wooded park than a forest.

“They’re creating a shaded fuel break, rather than a clear cut,” Andrew Hunsberger, Kelowna’s Urban Forestry Supervisor told reporters on a tour of the operation today, March 21.

Gorman Bros. Lumber's machine sorts logs for milling or chipping.
Gorman Bros. Lumber's machine sorts logs for milling or chipping.

Hunsberger had identified a 4,000-hectare area along June Springs Road that is heavily and unnaturally overgrown. It stretches up to areas burned by the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire to the west and south and once completed in three year’s time, will offer major protection from wildfires for the homes in the area.

Julius Huhs, Land and Resource Coordinator for the Okanagan-Shuswap Regional District, explained the scope and benefits of the project – frequently citing its win-win aspects.

Of the 4,000 hectares, about 1,000 will be treated, and only 70 this year. The rest either does not need such treatment or is inaccessible, he said.

Partnerships have been formed with a number of businesses and agencies.

One of those is Gorman Bros. which will log an area they would never have considered working prior to this since it’s too close to homes. Residents bought into the program because it means fire protection for them.

Forest on the right side of the road is in a natural state. On the left, it's been thinnned.
Forest on the right side of the road is in a natural state. On the left, it's been thinnned.

Having Gorman’s cut the trees, means costs are kept down. But Gorman’s has to log in a more selective way, leaving the right-sized and properly spaced trees behind and sorting the logs by size for either shipping to their mill or being picked up to be chipped as biofuel in plants in Merritt or Armstrong.

It also opens up the forest for feed for deer. In some other projects, it will also create grazing land for cattle.

Some areas that can only be logged by hand instead of machine will serve as training for B.C. Wildfire Services crews while having Westbank First Nations crews involved means they are on site to recognize any culturally significant sites or objects.

This is not the first project of its kind in Kelowna. Hunsberger said that the City of Kelowna has been doing similar work for 15 years. There are other projects in the Joe Rich area of Mission Creek, Ellison and West Kelowna areas, as well as throughout the province.

Huhs explained that forests used to burn naturally every 10 years or so. Forest fighting efforts over the past few decades prevented that natural thinning process, creating unnaturally thick forests with plenty fo fuel to increase the heat and spread of fires.

This South Slopes project is budgeted to cost $1.6 million over three years and is fully funded by the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. With the help of partners, only $66,000 has been spent to date.

When it’s done, firewood will be bucked up and stacked by the edge of the road for people to take.

“Partly because that’s a nice thing to do,” Huhs said. “It also avoids having people cut into log decks that can be very expensive.”

Work will continue this spring until it’s too dry to log in the forests.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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