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Test thinning of trees underway in Lost Lake Park

Experiment may become part of strategy for wildfire prevention

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The test areas are different from conventional thinning for several reasons. The first is that workers will be hauling out all of the cut trees rather than leaving them as potential fuel on the forest floor.

Another difference is the fact that they are taking out the more valuable coniferous trees, leaving deciduous tree species that are shorter lived, are more resistant to drought and are more fire resistant. They are also leaving clumps of trees, which will be better for wildlife and aesthetic values.

"Right now we’re experimenting with the density, 45 per cent, 35 per cent and 25 per cent crown closure. Each one will let in different amounts of light, which will determine how the understory vegetation grows and what the potential will be for wildlife," said Blackwell.

"It has a random look, unlike a plantation. We’re also hoping it will add old growth characteristics to the area almost immediately, something that could take 50 years to realize if this forest was left alone."

The test densities will also help the municipality determine what the costs will be if they have to thin hundreds of hectares in municipal parks. By testing three different densities, all of which require a different amount of manpower, the tests will allow the municipality to make a cost-effective decision when the time comes.

Most of the wood collected for the test blocks will be passed through a chipper and brought to the sewage treatment plant to help create biosolids for municipal use.

If thinning projects go ahead, other potential users include a craftsman who makes therapeutic oils out of young pine needles, landscapers, and the municipality, which wants to use the wood chips to hold snow on cross-country ski trails. Some of the material may also be sent to the composting facility in Squamish, providing that it’s free of cedar.

So far there hasn’t been any negative public reaction to the thinning project, says Brett, who remembers the protests that erupted when a similar program was used in Stanley Park.

"I think most people are outdoorsy enough here that they can understand what we’re doing. We’re not logging to make money, we’re doing it to save the forest essentially, and improve the area for wildlife. People know second-growth when they see it, and when a forest is too dense.

"In two or three years, if we’re successful, we hope people won’t even be able to tell we were here."

Brett, Blackwell and forestry expert Francois Sauvé, who are running the experiment, have set up photo point areas that will allow them to monitor the progress of the thinned areas. It could take 10 to 15 years before they can make any conclusions, and even then the test area is too small for research purposes. However, they say they should be able to see a difference with wildlife and understory vegetation a lot sooner.