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Thinning the forests could change wildfire patterns, forest manager says

After the worst wildfire season on record, a research forest manager is thinking of ways to prevent such radical events.

UBC forest manager spent part of summer fighting wildfires

Preemptively thinning forests can cut down on fuel that leads to out of control fires, according to UBC research forest manager Ken Day. (Ken Day)

The manager of the UBC research forest near Williams Lake says that after a summer of wildfires, he's considering more frequent thinning of the forest to prevent such out-of-control fires in the future.

When a fire started in the Alex Fraser research forest on the afternoon of July 7, 2017, Ken Day remembers looking out his window and seeing a stormy sky.

Half an hour later, he said it looked like a volcano going off in the forest near the Williams Lake Indian Reserve. Lightning had struck the land and wildfires were breaking out. 

One thousand hectares —10 per cent of the forest — burned due to seven fires that tore through the research area.

Day said the areas of the forest that had been thinned burned in a significantly different way

"It got me thinking that maybe there's an opportunity to manage our landscape differently if we do more thinning," Day said.

"If thinning becomes a component of our regular harvest practices, we could potentially make the landscape more fire resilient."

The aftermath of the seven wildfires that tore through the Alex Fraser research forest. (Ken Day)

Thinning forests involves removing trees and other vegetation that is dead or slow-growing to make room for new trees and to remove wildfire fuel from the area. 

Day said in traditional European forestry practices, they often thin their forests twice when the forest is 15 years old or three times at age 30. Sometimes, they even thin forests once more at age 60 and then, when the forest is 80 years old, harvest it.

"Each of those thinnings puts some fibre into the market," Day said. "It's a means of improving the quality of the final harvest and recovering fibre in the interim while the stand is growing."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops