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Whistler history lives in the core



Tree ring study to yield insight into Whistler wild fire history, insect infestations, and more

Study by study, the natural history of Whistler is being pieced together.

Fishing buffs have combed through pictures of early fishing trips to find out what the original fish species were before stocking programs began. Birders are counting the variety of birds living in and migrating through the valley. Experts in hydrology and fish biology are attempting to restore the natural flow of creeks that have been disrupted by human activity, from logging, to mining, to resort development.

Local biologist Bob Brett started a different kind of investigation into Whistler’s natural history this past August, examining core samples from trees in order to determine what role wild fires and other natural disturbances have had on our local ecology.

With the backcountry closed due to the fire hazard and the driest summer on record on the coast, Brett says it’s a good time to look at the fire history of the area to determine what a fire might look like, how to deal with it, and, more importantly, how it may be prevented.

The RMOW agreed, and gave Brett some funding for a pilot study on Whistler’s fire history.

"One of the things I’m finding on both sides of the valley are a lot of bigger trees that are 200 or more likely 300-plus years. There are some conclusions we might be able to draw from that, if I find the same thing everywhere I go," said Brett. "It’s still too early to tell what that means exactly, but it’s definitely of interest."

If trees are the same age, it’s possible that there was a large fire in the area around 300 years ago that ranged from one end of the valley to the other and consumed most of the trees. If there wasn’t a major fire or natural disturbance, such as a flood, insect infestation or disease, then trees should vary in age.

The only forest fires on record in the area were small, and date back to the 1920s and ’30s. The railroad was the main cause of fires, although some were attributed to forestry and mining operations.

According to Brett, the forests in Whistler are different than the forests of the Interior, where this summer’s wildfires destroyed more than 300 homes and several businesses, and will likely cost the province more than half a billion dollars.

Fires are a regular part of the natural cycle in the Interior, says Brett, with pine needles and dry grasses providing easy fuel for fires that burn out relatively quickly, only scarring the trees. As a result, trees are generally more spaced out and separated by grass.

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