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Banff prescribed fires aim to improve forest health, help wildlife

Controlled fires could be ignited in Banff National Park later this week in hopes of preserving the long-term health of the forests, experts say.

6 prescribed fires range in size from 25 hectares to 6,800

Banff National Park's Carrot Creek prescribed fire in May 2013. The park plans to start 6 fires this year ranging in size from 25 hectares to 6,800. (Parks Canada/YouTube)

Controlled fires could be ignited in Banff National Park later this week in hopes of preserving the long-term health of the forests, experts say.

Six fires are planned inside the park this year, some as big as 6,800 hectares and some as small as 25.

Erin Tassell, the acting fire and vegetation specialist at Banff National Park, says prescribed fires get rid of old growth that could fuel more serious fires down the road.

"They fit a variety of objectives," Tassell told CBC News.

Erin Tassell, of Banff National Park, says controlled burns reduce old growth that could create bigger problems down the road. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

"So we have a couple that are looking for wildfire mitigation and building landscape level fuel breaks. We are also looking to improve wildlife habitat in a couple of areas."

Tyler McClure, of the Canmore-based WildSmart organization that specializes in human-wildlife interactions, says that's an important point.

Tyler McClure of WildSmart says plant growth following a prescribed fire is attractive to wildlife. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

He says fires help to "restart" the forest.

"It's not so much that fire itself is good for animals, it's not like you're going to see bears emerging from the flames," McClure said.

"It's that after the fire, the plant growth that happens is very attractive to animals like ungulates, bears. It may even create landscapes for animals like wolves to use and pass through as well."

The controlled burn could start as early as this Tuesday, weather permitting.