Standing deadwood near Keji threatens tree replanting efforts

Burnt trees that were left standing after 2016 wildfires are at risk of toppling over, creating a safety risk for tree planting.

Burnt trees that were left standing after 2016 wildfires are at risk of toppling over, creating safety risk

Mary Jane Rodger is the general manager and forester at the Medway Community Forest Cooperative. (David Burke/CBC)

There's an ominous creaking sound in the fire-ravaged forests near Kejimkujik National Park as the wind blows through a forest of blackened trees. 

The majority of those trees are dead, kept upright only by a tiny portion of their roots that survived the Seven Mile Lake and Maitland Bridge forest fires back in 2016.

"The fire was actually so deep because of the drought conditions at that time that it burnt some of the roots in some of these shallow-soiled areas, so you can kind of put your hand on a tree and it falls over in some areas," said Mary Jane Rodger, the general manager and forester with the Medway Community Forest Co-operative, which manages 15,000 hectares of Crown land in Annapolis County. 

About 395 hectares of forest around Kejimikujik National Park were destroyed by fire in 2016. Despite standing upright many of these trees are dead and could fall at any moment. (David Burke/CBC)

Those burnt trees are part of the reason more tree planting hasn't been done. It's too risky to send in crews to do planting with so many trees so close to toppling.  

"I'm hesitant to plant anything within the actual forested area that was burnt because it presents a lot of safety risks," said Rodger.

Back in the fall, the co-operative did plant more than 40,000 trees, but only in areas that had no trees left standing after the fire.  

Robert Lefurgey is a forest technician with the Department of Natural Resources. He said areas damaged by forest fires are dangerous and people should avoid them. (David Burke/CBC)

Most of the 395 hectares damaged by the forest fires have numerous burned trees still upright.   

Robert Lefurgey is a forest technician with the Department of Natural Resources. He said everyone should avoid going into areas damaged by the fires. 

"It can be quite dangerous walking around or tree planting and remediating the site. They're very weak and any kind of wind or even moisture in the ground can make them fall over at any time," he said. 

Some of the trees damaged by the 2016 fires were taken down by DNR or have fallen over on their own. (David Burke/CBC)

The department usually waits three years before it starts tree planting to give the forest a chance to regrow naturally, making it safer for people to enter the damaged area. 

Rodger agrees that waiting is probably best. 

"We want to make sure that some of the trees that are going to fall down will do so in the next couple of years and then it might be a bit safer to send some people in to plant underneath," she said.

In the meantime, the co-op is planning some test planting in areas where it is safe to do so, aiming to figure out which species of tree will perform best in the fire-damaged environment.  

About the Author

David Burke

Reporter

David Burke is a reporter in Halifax who covers everything from politics to science. His reports have been featured on The National, World Report and As it Happens, as well as the Information Morning shows in Halifax and Cape Breton.

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