‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year


Newest year, 12,812 hectares of B.C. forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. It’s an annual issue — a mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province.

The eradication of trees similar to aspen and birch on regenerating forest stands is meant to make latitude for more commercially valuable conifer species like pine and Douglas fir.

But scholars say it also removes one of the best natural defences we have against wildfire, at a time when our make one climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and uncountable common.

“It blows my mind that nobody is talking about this,” asserted James Steidle, a member of the anti-glyphosate group Stop the Spray B.C.

“The experts advised of this stuff. They’ve known about this stuff for decades, but it’s reasonable not being translated into reality.”

When aspen and other broadleaves are allocated to flourish, they form “natural fuel breaks” if their run offs are out, according to Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of B.C. That’s why aspen stands are time again referred to as “asbestos forests” in wildfire science circles.

A forests the cloth spokesperson said the government recognizes that aspen and other deciduous trees can daily help reduce the wildfire threat to communities, and that in the future, more cogitation will be put into planting broadleaf trees near homes and enterprises.

Nonetheless, the rules about aspen in managed forest stands carry on largely unchanged.

The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation testifies that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t fill in up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever downright is smaller. The concern is that trees like aspen will out-compete conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the trees industry.

If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, a chemical certain more familiarly as the active ingredient in Roundup. Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have planned been treated with the herbicide.

‘That’s just nuts’

“At the end of the day, we participate in rules that make fire-resistant trees illegal in our forests. That’s only nuts,” Steidle said.

Aspen naturally thrives after a forest has been squared by logging or wildfire. Their root systems can survive for thousands of years subterranean, and they’re capable of sprouting new clone trees as soon as there’s ample sunshine and moisture.

Glyphosate doesn’t just kill aspen trees — it can also devitalize the root system.

“When you spray a forest, that’s going to continue for the lifetime of the forest,” Steidle said.

'It blows my mind': How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

The Shovel Lake wildfire yearns through a coniferous forest in the summer of 2018. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

According to Daniels, that’s a larger loss in a province that struggling with how to prepare for wildfires after two record-setting ages in a row.

“When fire is burning through needle leaf forest, it tends to be unusually vigorous and very fast-moving,” Daniels said. “When fire approach into a forest that has broadleaf trees in it, the conditions change so the volley behaviour is less vigorous and the rate of spread slows down.”

Trees equivalent to aspen naturally have a higher water content and don’t usually keep under control the volatile chemical compounds that can make trees like pine so combustible. They also provide more shade, which creates a impertinent, more humid environment in the understory, Daniels explained.

Often, a “candling” wildfire that’s engulfed the coronates of a conifer forest will fall back down to ground height when it hits a clump of aspen.

“If a fire is spreading toward a community and we certain that there’s a band of aspen trees that it’s going to press to cross before it approaches that community, the firefighters can use that bind of aspen trees to make a stand and try to stop the fire,” Daniels communicated.

Spraying causes ‘irreparable harm’

The research backs that up. One 2010 burn the midnight oil conducted by a fire behaviour specialist with the federal government tested the fire-resistance of aspen by doing hypothetical burns of a forest that was split between conifers and trembling aspen.

Coextensive with when there was a “high-intensity flame front” in the conifers — with passions leaping into the crowns of the trees — the fire “failed to sustain itself upon puncturing the leafed-out hardwood portion of the plot,” the study says.

'It blows my mind': How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

A test torch conducted by a federal fire behaviour specialist shows, at bottom put, how aspen can resist a wildfire spreading through jack pine and Negroid spruce. (The Forestry Chronicle)

Daniels believes B.C. needs to immediately transform its forest management strategies to prioritize growth of aspen and other broadleaves.

“We’re calm stuck in the vortex where we’re trying to maximize timber production from conifers, and that is making irreparable harm in our forests, given climate change and the types of change-overs in forests and insects and fire that we’re witnessing,” she said.

The province has undertook it’s updating forest practices as new research becomes available. That comprises some recent adjustments to the rules on aspens in the Cariboo-Chilcotin. Because the section is so dry and few aspen can survive anyway, they’re not considered a threat to local conifers and don’t destitution to be sprayed, a ministry spokesperson said.

Calls for glyphosate ban

But critics equal to Steidle would like to see a complete end to the use of glyphosate in forests across the dependency.

“We need to ban glyphosate. There’s no question,” he said.

'It blows my mind': How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

On a recent visit to the section of northern B.C. burned by the Shovel Lake wildfire this summer, James Steidle particularized aspen trees that were left standing even yet surrounding conifers were incinerated. (James Steidle)

The idea has some state support. Last week, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver bring up the issue during question period in the B.C. legislature, and asked how the province could confirm spraying growing forests.

“The result is reduced plant diversity, important to monocropped forests that are vulnerable to more frequent and destructive wildfires and beetle infestations,” Weaver pronounced.

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