Crystal Schick/Yukon News file Wildland fire burns near Carcross in August 2018. Wildland fire prevention are high on the priority list of Whitehorse and Southern Lakes new forest management plan.

Whitehorse, Southern Lakes region at ‘risk of large-scale wildfires,’ says proposed forest management plan

A public survey is now available

The Whitehorse and Southern Lakes area may receive its first forest management plan, and, if it is anything like its draft version, wildfire prevention is a high priority.

A section of the proposed plan, released on June 18, says the area is at “risk of large-scale wildfires.”

“Wildfire prevention in the Southern Lakes area will require larger scale fire and fuel management planning and treatments,” it says, adding that this could include things like reducing fuels and “improved planning and collaboration.”

The area consists of roughly 1,490,000 hectares, parts of which fall within the City of Whitehorse and Carcross.

“The lowland forests in the Whitehorse and Southern Lakes region are at risk of burning due to human-caused ignitions, and less so by lightning,” the proposed plan says. “The growing population in the region has increased both the likelihood of fires and the potential impact these wildfires can have on people, property and forest values.”

It says mitigating these problems requires a concerted effort at fire abatement.

“This need may compete with interests for protection of wildlife habitat, aesthetic and recreational values, and economic opportunities,” it continues. “To achieve balance, community involvement will be essential to successfully design projects.”

In April, John Streicker, Yukon’s minister of community services, said that the Southern Lakes region is at high risk of wildfires, a finding backed up by research. A capital plan that seeks to stymie forest fires, he added then, will be based off that.

Michelle Sicotte, from the Yukon’s forest management branch, said it’s anticipated that the strategic plan, once implemented, will improve cooperation and spur further local wildfire protection plans as a result.

“Really identifying what are the risks, what are the hazards around communities,” she said.

The proposed plan, which was put together over eight years, seeks to address issues like population increases, industrial and residential development, it says.

Wildlife habitat conservation, creating management zones and timber harvesting as a means to reduce the risk of wildfires are some of the goals.

The proposed plan seeks to establish a framework that streamlines work between several partners with varying interests, including the Yukon government, which is responsible for public lands, the City of Whitehorse and First Nations like Kwanlin Dün and Carcross/Tagish.

“It’s not easy to get so many different governments and interests on the same path,” Sicotte said. “We hope it will provide some more clarity for forest management activities in the region and more certainty about where and when and how activities may happen. I think this is a big opportunity for communities and the public to get involved.”

A public survey on the proposed plan opened on June 18. It closes on Sept. 30. A link to it can be found here: https://survey.gov.yk.ca/2019WhitehorseSouthernLakes.aspx

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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