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Recovery & Planning After Wildfires

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests were consumed in all-time record wildfires that burned throughout BC in the summers of 2017 and 2018. While the forests of BC have evolved and adapted to experience wildfires as a natural agent of disturbance, it is a shock to established systems. In the wake of these fires, here’s a brief look at how West Fraser is part of renewing the forest landscape.

Forest Management After WildfiresBurnt logs being harvested near Williams Lake, BC

The volume of the forest burnt in the past two summers creates significant challenges for our woods teams who plan our timber harvesting. Where we operate in Canada, nearly all of the forests are owned by the public, and approvals for harvesting must be sought through the government. Our plans begin months and years ahead of time, surveying the land, consulting with stakeholders, developing plans, and applying for the required permits to build roads and approvals to harvest trees (read also: Restoring Healthy Forests, Supporting Communities - Chetwynd’s Community Forest). When wildfires occur, our woods teams must re-plan their multi-year harvesting plans, knowing a large amount of the logs they had counted on have been consumed in the fires. 

 Typically, we only harvest fire-damaged timber from a small area of the fire due to a variety of factors, which include the severity of damage to the timber, the ability to operate in the area and the need to retain areas for other resource values, like habitat or natural forest regeneration. 

Salvage planning starts before fires are officially put out. Our woods teams look ahead into the potential for fire salvage so that we can compile detailed plans for government approvals of our post-fire harvest plans before any salvage occurs.  We estimate for the 2017 burn areas that we may only be able to conduct salvage harvesting on 15% of the total burn zone within our operating area.  West Fraser reforests the areas we harvest. Reforestation and restoration opportunities on the remaining 85% of the burnt land are assessed by Government and can be funded through programs such as the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC) or Forests for Tomorrow.

To develop new salvage harvesting plans, we review satellite imagery and data from the government to help with our planning. "We use this to do our initial planning. We map out the burned areas, the old growth forest areas, the archeological sites, the sensitive habitat areas, and the recreational areas before we step foot in the forest," says Chad Swanson, Woods Manager, 100 Mile Lumber.  “Considering Indigenous Peoples and other community groups in the area, we make sure to include and address their values into our harvesting plan," adds Chad Swanson.

By the time the fires are put out, the woods teams go into the forest to finalize and validate their plans to salvage an area. Once we’re ready to salvage the timber, we again collaborate with local Indigenous communities and other community contractors to harvest the trees.

Habitat in a Burned Forest

Wildfires change a lot of the habitat available to small mammals, birds and fish. When West Fraser harvests in a burnt region, we keep large, strong trees up for bird habitats. Debris from our harvesting is purposefully left in piles to create small mammal habitats. Debris and logs are also placed near water areas that were affected to help support fish habitat in streams.

Many plants and animals that live in Canada’s forests are adapted to fire. The Government of Canada provides more information about why fires are important to many Canadian forest species and how it spurs forest growth.

Read more about harvesting and milling burnt timber and how we replant a variety of trees after harvesting