British Columbia

Partial loss of UBC research forest to fire leads to unlikely research opportunities

The destruction of parts of a research forest near Williams Lake showed scientists how different ways of preparing the forest floor for fires influences fire intensity.

'We have extreme weather and 100 years of accumulated fuel …this is a problem we have built together'

UBC researcher Ken Day says different ways of preparing the forest floor can impact how intense a wildfire becomes. (Wylie Bystedt)

Ten per cent of a research forest operated by the University of British Columbia near Williams Lake has been burned by wildfire this summer.

And while UBC researchers are working to protect the 10,000-hectare forest, which is home to a number of long-term projects, the damage is offering some unique opportunities.

"I've found it quite interesting… looking at the [forest fire] treatment we've done over our 30-year history and some even before the research forest was established," manager Ken Day told On The Coast guest host Michelle Eliot.

"Part of the variability in fire effects [within the UBC forest] is what our treatment effects have done to the fuel load in the past."

Day says zones where the forest floor was thinned of burnable material, like dead wood, saw reduced fire intensity and reduced mortality of trees in the fire's path.

He says there already have been attempts at thinning the forest floor in areas adjacent to communities, and this is more evidence in favour of preparing areas at risk of fire before the fires start.

"We as a society have changed over 100 years — the way we use the land and affected traditional practices, the practices of ranchers and greatly reduced incidents of fire on the land," he said.

"That is now playing out: we have extreme weather and 100 years of accumulated fuel. … This is a problem we have built together."

Day says further research is required on fuel for fire management to better understand how they influence wildfires.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast