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RMOW tree thinning project underway

Blackcomb Benchlands work to cover more than 15 hectares



The forestry operations currently underway in the Blackcomb Benchlands are part of a fire hazard reduction strategy, and not old growth logging in our community forest - that's the message from the Whistler Fire Rescue Services.

All of the oldest and largest trees in the area will be left in place, with crews primarily removing tightly packed smaller trees that represent a huge amount of easily burned fuel in the result of a fire.

"This is not logging by any stretch of the imagination," said fire chief Rob Whitton on Wednesday. "This is a wildfire thinning program that we've had in place for six years, and this is one of the most sensitive and largest areas we've moved into so far."

Whitton says the program will modify fire behaviour, reducing the amount of fuel in the forest while creating more room for firefighters to work. It also assists helicopters and planes dropping fire retardants on the area in the event of a fire.

"With the amount of fuel in these areas now a fire would be virtually unstoppable from the ground," said Whitton. "The only thing we could rely on would be air support and even then, given the fuel load - there's a question whether even tankers would be able to stop the spread of the fire."

Similar thinning projects have been applied to Lost Lake Park, Kadenwood and other areas around Whistler that have a history of logging - but predate provincial requirements to manage the forest after the fact.

The side benefit, says Whitton, is that the thinning also allows natural undergrowth such as bushes and ferns to return, and creates more habitat for wildlife. Right now trees are so close together that animals can't even move through the area.

There are patches of old growth trees in the prescription area, but none of those trees will be cut. Older trees are more resilient to wildfires, says Whitton, and the canopy they create prevents the accumulation of fuel on the forest floor.

The project got underway in the Benchlands area on Sept. 13. Thinning will be conducted by a contractor on behalf of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, as part of Whistler's wildfire management strategy, and will continue until snowfall this year - then recommence in the spring.

The prevalence of forest fires in British Columbia this past summer highlights the need to manage fire risks in forests surrounding communities such as Whistler, according to a RMOW press release. Tree thinning is a key strategy recommended in Whistler's Community Wildfire Protection Plan and is intended to reduce the volume of woody fuels in or close to populated areas, so Whistler's fire protection efforts can be more effective.