A member of the PIB continues to cut away the understory, surrounded by previously felled trees. The Ellis Landscape Level Fuel Break project is a collaboration with RDOS, PIB, FESBC, and the Wild Sheep Society of BC. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

Wildfire mitigation work helps restore sheep habitat in South Okanagan

RDOS and PIB collaboration to reduce wildfire behaviour potential and preserve wild sheep habitat

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen and the Penticton Indian Band are collaborating with the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. to reduce fire behaviour potential in the area while preserving the sheep habitat.

PIB crews are currently working in the area, below Carmi Forest Service Road (on the downslope side of Beaver Dell Road), to thin out overgrowth and treat the area in advance of the next wildfire season.

John Davies, of Davies Wildfire Management, is one of the project leads on the Ellis Landscape Level Fuel Break project being carried out by the PIB and RDOS. These organizations are being assisted by FESBC and the Wild Sheep Society of BC. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

“This project was born working with PIB in this area, looking to do some wildfire mitigation work and sheep habitat restoration,” said John Davies, of Davies Wildfire Management, one of the project leads during a presentation of the site on Dec. 11. “The idea was … coming up with a prescription that would reduce the wildfire behaviour potential within this stand and promote sheep winter range, which is critical in this area.”

Related: B.C. works to prepare for future wildfire, flood seasons

Davies said this work will continue for the next couple of weeks, with a controlled burn taking place in the area either next spring or fall. The burn will be a collaborative effort with BC Wildfire Service and the PIB.

“(So what we’re doing) is we’re thinning out all of the under story, so we’re taking out all stems that are less than 12 and a half centimetres in diameter,” said Davies. “And they’re being laid on the forest floor, bucked and limbed so they’re flat, making them easier to burn in the spring.”

Related: Caution urged as people head back into wildfire affected areas in B.C.

Wild sheep make an appearance off of Beaver Dell Road to graze the snowy slopes on Dec. 11. The area is being treated to help preserve wild sheep habitat while reducing fuels that add to potential wildfire behaviour. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

Davies said this removes ladder fuels, which are plants, trees or shrubs that enable a fire to travel upwards from the ground to a crown of a tree. He said this also increases sight lines for predatory-prey, so sheep can take advantage of “more of an open area” where they “don’t have to worry about ambushes from cougars or coyotes or wolves.”

Band elders that also attended the presentation mentioned the importance of preserving this land as it was once a favoured hunting ground. It was noted that controlled burns are essential because the charcoal left behind acts as a filtration system in the water cycle.

“This is real recognition and reconciliation because it is going to restore the health of the land. Our food systems, our social institutions like our hunting camps and berry pickers, this restores that as part of the landscape that we’ve been denied access for hundreds of years,” said PIB Chief Chad Eneas. “I’m really happy that we can all be here together to revitalize our sense of community from our Indigenous perspective.”

“Like our elders said, the health of the land is really reflected in the quality of water. The water quality that our kids are going to inherit is a responsibility for all of us,” said Eneas.

Related: B.C. communities call for wildfire prevention help

This project marks a shift from similar, smaller-scale projects that have been carried out by the province. Davies noted these other projects are typically carried out directly behind people’s homes, while this one covers 150 hectares and is considered a “landscape level treatment.”

Jonathon Finlay, a wildfire technician with BC Wildfire Service, added that this type of project work is imperative for fire response in the summer. This type of clearing also allows firefighters to better traverse these “high priority” areas when they are fighting wildfires, in order to protect urban centres.

Members of the PIB work diligently to clear the under story of the landscape on the downside slope of Beaver Dell Rd. The trees will be limbed and laid flat for controlled burning, which will either happen next spring or fall. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

“A big part of this is to give our firefighters a chance, to reduce forest fuels that contribute to fire behaviour and really give them a chance, keep that fire on the ground,” said Finlay. “We’re in this together from a community perspective, so these partnerships and projects are vital for the area.”

Related: Myths and facts about fighting B.C. wildfires

“There’s not a lot of capacity out there necessarily to do this work. I don’t think this project would be going on without the support of the PIB. We are in their territory, this is their traditional use area,” said Davies. “It’s having them involved right from the start and getting their values onto the table has helped really drive this. And they’re the ones out doing the work. Having all of these agencies work together is not something that has typically happened a lot in the past.”

Davies said this project is “just one piece of the puzzle,” with other projects being proposed in the area to “tie into this landscape and build a landscape break around the community.” He said this “cannot be a one-off project” and that the hope is following this prescription and controlled burn, the land will continue to be maintained in an ongoing effort as part of a community program.

Davies explained funding needed to develop the prescriptions was provided by the Forestry Enhancement Society of B.C. Additional funding is also being provided by the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Ecosystem Restoration Program.

“After the development of the prescription, we were able to get additional funding from FLNRO Ecosystem Restoration Program and the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. was able to secure funding from the United States from the Wild Sheep Foundation. We’re using this money to implement the prescription, which is being done by the PIB,” said Davies.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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