Whistler is surrounded by forest and as a result is at risk for wildfires. Fuel reduction is one component of Whistler’s Wildfire Protection Strategy.
Fuel thinning in Whistler
The Resort Municipality of Whistler has been conducting fuel thinning projects on Crown and municipal lands since 2004 to reduce the risk of wildfire to our community. The primary goal of fuel thinning is to reduce forest fuel loads within the wildland-urban interface to reduce the ability of fire to spread from the forest into the community and vice versa, and to make wildfires easier to fight. Fuel thinning will be discontinued when the fire hazard goes to high or extreme and will resume when the fire hazard is lower.
Sometimes projects need to burn some of the wood debris. There is no need to report smoke from fuel thinning projects.
Fuel thinning process and goals
Fuel thinning focuses on leaving mature and deciduous trees, while removing ground brush and debris, pruning lower branches, and removing tight second growth trees. This is accomplished by:
- Reducing the number of trees in the stand;
- Focusing on removal of small diameter trees and retaining fire-resistant species such as Douglas-fir and deciduous trees;
- Reduce fine woody surface debris, while retaining larger coarse woody debris for habitat and soil productivity;
- Prunning trees to reduce ladder fuels between the ground and the forest crown; and
- Removing dangerous trees to protect workers, while maintaining high value wildlife trees where possible.
In addition to reducing forest fuel loads, secondary objectives of fuel thinning projects are to protect critical infrastructure and facilities in Whistler, restore open forest conditions and demonstrate the principles and practices of the FireSmart program.
The RMOW completed a study in 2012 to identify where landscape level fuel breaks should be created along forest service roads around Whistler. The focus is on reducing tree densities in tight second growth, rather than removing old growth trees although sometimes that is necessary. Thinning stands within 100 - 200 m of each side of the road reduces the fuel available to feed fire growth and creates safer, defensible areas for firefighting crews to work in.
With the exception of the Cheakamus Lake Road project, fuel thinning projects are completed for 2018. Work was completed in the following areas:
- Whistler Cemetery and Alpine Meadows – 21.7 hectares
- Wedge – roadside thinning and clean up
- Callaghan Forest Service Road – 22 hectares
- Kadenwood Road – Work has resumed and will continue until fire danger reaches high.
Cheakamus Lake fuel treatment
In 2018 The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) began to thin a total of 113 ha along either side of Cheakamus Lake Road. To allow for efficient and safe working conditions it will be necessary to periodically close the road. Please obey all signs and workers.
In addition the RMOW and CCF are working with WORCA to ensure trails in the area are taken into consideration, and with BC Parks to reduce disruption to the Cheakamus Lake Trail parking lot.
- The RMOW and Cheakamus Community Forest are working together to complete the wildfire fuel thinning project along the road.
- 40 ha in the central portion of the road were thinned.
- The section closest to the highway is scheduled for winter 2019/20.
- The Cheakamus Lake Road will reopen May 15.
- Field clean up work will continue through May and June. Road users may experience short delays. Please obey flaggers.
- The CCF, RMOW, and WORCA will clear and re-establish trails affected by the work as quickly as possible.
- Find details on the Cheakamus Lake Fuel Treatment Map.
Rainbow Neighbourhood Fuel Thinning Project 2019 - 2020
The next project scheduled for 2019 - 2020 is to thin around the Rainbow neighbourhood in the areas outlined on the map. The activities associated with this work will likely include:
- Understorey thinning and bucking coniferous tree species;
- Thinning coniferous trees and dead lodgepole pine to separate tree crowns and reduce future fuel loading;
- Pile burning or chipping to reduce surface fuel and dispose of debris;
- Providing a portion of the wood waste to the Callaghan composter to create its soil amendment product;
- Removing flammable understory vegetation, and
- Pruning retained trees.
The RMOW is partnering with the Cheakamus Community Forest to do the work, and is coordinating with WORCA regarding the trails in the area.
The RMOW received funding for several fuel thinning projects from the Union of BC Municipalities Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative to supplement the municipality’s budget to carry out the work. The RMOW is also partnering with the Cheakamus Community Forest on projects within its tenure area and substantial funding is provided by the Forest Enhancement Society of BC.