Springtime is finally here, and along with the fall, it's one of the times of the year when burning can be more safely used as a forest management tool. If you live in or drive through rural areas, you may see smoke on the hillsides, or smell it in the air.
One of the reasons prescribed burns are done in BC is to reduce logging slash levels after harvesting so that areas may be more easily planted. Sometimes you get more natural regeneration after fires, especially with pine species, which is an added benefit. Some plant species also regenerate well after fire, such as huckleberry shrubs. Burning the slash in the spring or fall, when conditions are moister and safer, also reduces the risk of a summer wildfire for the area (because you've reduced the fuel load on the site).
Another reason these burns are sometimes prescribed is to reduce the amount of woody debris and forest fuels within standing forests. Some southern, drier areas of the Province where large Ponderossa Pine or Douglas Fir grow can benefit from the elimination of understory fuels in the spring or fall, to reduce the chance of a more destructive wildfire in the summer (that may cause the larger trees to burn up).
One thing I personally believe, is that we haven't seen the worst of the wildfires that will result from all of the dead mountain-pine beetle killed forests in BC. There have been some big fires in recent years, such as near Princeton, but in my opinion we've been lucky so far. There are currently vast areas of dead forests in BC, and the early predictions I've heard are calling for another hot, dry summer. Any fuels that can be reduced through prescribed burns, especially near population centers, will be a benefit.
Here is a fact sheet on prescribed burning that was attached to a Ministry of Forests news release out of Cranbrook (see link below). It will give you an idea of why prescribed burns are done, especially if one is occurring near you.
FACTSHEET - PRESCRIBED FIRE AS AN ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT TOOL
• Fire is a normal, natural process in many of British Columbia’s ecosystems. Many species of birds, insects, plants and animals depend on fire for its regenerative properties.
• Fires help control insects and diseases in forests, and lead to forest succession (younger forests replacing older forests) to create a patchwork of forest ages, which supports biodiversity.
• Prescribed fire is one of the tools used by forest professionals to achieve certain objectives for land management. For example, using fire is appropriate for habitat enhancement, to improve forage for cattle, deer, elk and moose, and to reduce fuel loads for interface fire risk reduction.
• Prescribed fires are carefully planned so that their intensity and size meets the land management objectives contained in the Kootenay Boundary Land Use Plan in the section for fire maintained ecosystems.
• All prescribed fires must comply with the Environmental Management Act’s Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation, which is in place to minimize the amount of smoke created. For example, burns may only be ignited on days when the venting index indicates smoke will not be trapped close to the ground. The regulation also requires the open flames to be out in 96 hours.
• Prescribed fires are ignited weather permitting to ensure the fire does not create excessive smoke, and to help ensure the fire does not get out of control. Elements important in determining the date of a burn include the venting index, temperature, humidity and forecast winds.
• Prescribed fires are ignited and continuously monitored and attended by trained crews. The Burn Boss responsible for making sure prescribed conditions will be met on ignition and to ensure the fire is extinguished to reduce unnecessary smouldering and to ensure it doesn’t reignite.