A proposal to clear a 100-metre corridor of pine trees along a section of McLean Lake Road has had some residents questioning just how smart Firesmarting really is.
In August, the city submitted a proposal to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board to Firesmart the areas of McLean Lake Road, McRae subdivision and the Whitehorse Copper minesite.
The project has two intended goals, said project co-ordinator David Loeks.
The first is to improve the safety of Whitehorse residents from the encroachment of forest fires and the second is to test the cost-effectiveness of mechanical tree-cutting methods as compared to hand-held equipment.
But residents have called the proposal too extreme and that planning for the project didn’t include them.
“To my mind the city hasn’t made enough of a case,” said Marianne Darragh who lives on McLean Lake Road.
She’s not in favour of the city’s plan to remove 50 metres of pine trees from each side of a 400-metre stretch of road and wait for aspen to seed, trees known to be more fire resistant.
The clearcut will be a conspicuous eyesore and will only further disturb McLean Lake, an area that residents have spent a long time lobbying to protect as a natural parkland, said Darragh.
As a former project manager for Firesmarting projects on Squatter’s Row, Darragh is familiar with the practice. This specific proposal is “inexplicably aggressive,” she said.
“The test area is small now, but the proposal is for Firesmarting to eventually go all the way down the road and that doesn’t need to be explained in the YESAB proposal. I find that a bit of a manoeuvre.”
The work is necessary and it’s a matter of weighing public values and risks, said Loeks and city fire Chief Clive Sparks.
“The problem is that (a clearcut) is visible, but a fire is visible and changes the landscape too,” said Loeks.
The three areas proposed for tree thinning and clearing are meant to create a “fuel break,” a swath of land that would ideally stop the spread of fires moving upland to areas like Copper Ridge, where property and lives would
be put at risk, said Loeks.
Some residents are concerned their property lines fall within areas that have been proposed for Firesmarting in the 2006 Whitehorse West Fuel-Management Plan.
“At least two private properties have not been indicated by the proponent on the map submitted to YESAB,” wrote McLean Lake resident Natalie Edelson in a submission to the assessment board.
One of these unmarked properties is owned by Edelson and it sits on an area marked for “heavy thinning, or logging.”
“We never have the authority to operate on people’s property,” said Loeks.
“There’s one property here that is close to the road,” said Loeks as he pointed to a map. “But in that case we’d say to the property owner, ‘Let’s talk.’”
But the lack of dialogue with residents so far on McLean Lake Road runs like an underlying current throughout many of the YESAB submissions.
“I am very concerned about the apparent lack of consultation with area residents who will be adversely affected by the aggressive deforestation being proposed for this area,” wrote Edelson.
“By defining Firesmarting as a public safety issue, the city of Whitehorse has managed to avoid normal public consultation processes,” wrote Darragh.
Even those residents who take it upon themselves to become informed face challenges, wrote McLean Lake resident Sue Moodie.
“The proposed plan maps are difficult to interpret online. This makes adequate input difficult and calls into question the adequacy of the public consultation,” she put in her submission.
Consultations haven’t occurred even though the Whitehorse West fuel management plan says they will be, said executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society Karen Baltgailis, who also submitted a comment to
But a community consultation is still coming, said Loeks. There are plans to hold a community meeting within the next six weeks to discuss Firesmarting in all three proposed locations, he said.
But it is consultation that is seen as a little late in the process for some, like Darragh.
She’s glad the proposal is going through YESAB, because it provides a public forum for residents to express any concerns they have.
“If it weren’t going through YESAB then the city certainly wouldn’t be doing this kind of assessment,” she said.
But even the assessment process itself has its shortfalls said McLean Lake resident, Skeeter Miller-Wright, who is also running in the upcoming municipal election.
“The history of (the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board) accepting inadequate or incorrect environmental information leading to insufficient environmental assessments does not support
confidence in the (board’s) assessments and its recommendations to proceed with a proposed project,” he wrote.
Firesmarting in McRae and Whitehorse Copper is proposed to begin this fall while clearing on McLean Lake Road is planned for the winter.
Contact Vivian Belik at email@example.com