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.
The RMOW Wildfire Program 2019-2027 was prepared in summer 2019 to identify priority areas for fuel thinning treatment in the Wildland Urban Interface near neighbourhoods.
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;
- Pruning 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.
Wildfire program work completed in the following areas in 2019:
- Kadenwood Road - final debris pile burning will take place over approximately two days in mid-to late-October, weather depending. If you see smoke, the Whistler Fire department is aware and doesn’t need to be called.
- Cheakamus Lake Road - Phase 1 (C03) - final debris pile burning is underway the week of October 8, 2019, weather depending. If you see smoke, the Whistler Fire department is aware and doesn’t need to be called.
- In addition, the RMOW Wildfire Program 2019-2027 plan identifying the next set of priority areas to treat was completed by B.A. Blackwell & Associates for forests near developed areas
Cheakamus Lake Road 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 close the road after Thanksgiving until the work is complete in spring 2020. 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.
Work will resume after Thanksgiving 2019 on the far end of the road out to the Cheakamus Lake trail parking lot and then on the remaining area closer to Highway 99 in spring 2020.
- The RMOW and Cheakamus Community Forest are working together on the project.
- 35 ha in the central portion of the road were thinned in winter 2018/19.
- Fuel thinning along the rest of the road is scheduled for autumn/winter 2019/20.
- Find details on the Cheakamus Lake Fuel Treatment Map.
Spruce Grove/White Gold Fuel Thinning Project fall 2019
The RMOW is continuing wildfire fuel management in the Wildland Urban Interace (WUI) areas. The next scheduled area to treat is a buffer on the western edge of Lost Lake adjacent to Spruce Grove and White Gold. The work will start in mid-October until snow shuts things down, and will recommence in spring 2020 as snow melt allows.
Rainbow Neighbourhood Fuel Thinning Project 2020
A project is being planned for 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.