The Yukon government is putting approximately $850,000 towards FireSmarting neighbourhoods and communities across the Yukon this winter.
Damian Burns, director of wildland fire management (WFM), said the wildland fire branch works each year with municipal and First Nations governments, non-profit organizations, and community organizations and partners, to decide where the annual FireSmart funding will go.
The bulk of funding usually goes to the City of Whitehorse, he said, because that’s where the greatest population and infrastructure is located, but every community in the territory is in a similar situation in terms of being surrounded by forest, so they all need to be considered.
Particularly right now, he said, because of the current condition of forests in the North.
“Our success in fighting forest fires in the Yukon over the last several decades has led to forests that are very mature.”
Burns said this makes for what WFM would call a “heavy fuel load,” meaning any fires that do start have plenty of fuel to keep them going.
When assessing areas for potential risk, Burns said one of the big things WFM looks at is the density of spruce and pine. The best management for dense areas, he said, follows a standard treatment.
That includes having a team, including a FireSmart coordinator, fire risk specialist, and mapping technician, look at tree spacing to ensure there’s enough space between individual trees. The team also considers thinning and pruning the trees, and assessing the “ladder of fuel,” which is the distance between the forest floor and the lowest branches of a tree.
Burns said WFM also looks at input from communities.
“Sometimes we have neighbourhoods that don’t want this kind of treatment behind their homes,” he said. “So we don’t go there unless it’s very high-risk.”
If the treatment is necessary, but there’s still pushback from a community that wants to maintain green corridors, he said WFM increases communication by sending experts to speak to residents of the neighbourhood and explain to them what fire management looks like, and why it’s required.
“People start seeing crews or flagging tape behind their yard and they can get a little bit frightened,” he said.
“Once we do get that (education) across we have a great deal of success.”
Burns said the money allocated is given directly to communities and organizations, which then choose from a list of contractors who specialize in fire management. It’s those contractors, not WFM, who go in and do the work and spacing, pruning, and thinning.
Burns said he can’t currently identify the specifics of the projects being undertaken this year.
Funding for the 2018/19 season of FireSmarting is as follows:
Village of Teslin - $25,000
Teslin Tlingit Council - $40,000
Tagish Volunteer Fire Department Society - $30,000
Carcross Tagish First Nations $25,000
South McClintock Community Association - $35,000
Lorne Mountain Community Association - $35,000
Wolf Creek Community Association - $40,000
McLean Lake Residents Association - $55,000
Kwanlin Dun First Nations - $35,000
Biathlon Yukon - $5,500
Riverdale Community Association - $54,960
Ta’an Kwach’an Council - $30,000
Porter Creek Community Association - $37,300
Hidden Valley School Council- $25,000
Ibex Volunteer Fire Department - $20,000
Champagne Aishihik First Nations - $25,000
Village of Haines Junction - $35,000
Kluane First Nations - $20,000
White River First Nations - $20,000
Village of Carmacks - $25,000
Little Salmon Carmacks First Nations - $20,000
Town of Faro - $25,000
Watson Lake Outdoor Club – $30,000
Watson Lake Volunteer Fire Fighters Association - $30,000
Liard First Nation - $60,000
Tr’ondek Hwech’in - $30,000
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