August 29, 2021 – 6:00 PM
While British Columbia envisions a future that appears to include more wildfires, it hasn’t always been so. First Nations have long used fire to improve forests.
Prescribed burns at the Penticton Indian Band have traditionally taken a holistic approach – fire management is only one of the benefits.
“When we traditionally burned, we burned because they wanted those little trees not to be there,” said Tim Lezard, a GDP adviser. Her grandmother, Annie Kruger, was a firefighter who actively managed their land until her death in 2003.
Lezard made the comment as he stood on a forest road, gazing into a patch of wilderness that has gone too long without a burn. But if this thick, overcrowded forest were to catch fire today, it would be difficult to maintain as there is so much fuel that has accumulated, including ladder fuels that help the flames spread through the canopy of trees. .
Across the road was a relatively open section of forest where Lezard had been involved in a prescribed burn four months earlier. The trees that stood were tall and healthy despite the bark around the bottom of their somewhat black and charred trunks, having easily withstood the rolling flames in the spring.
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To keep the wilderness well managed, Lezard said forested areas in his territory should undergo a prescribed burn about every 10 years. If they grow too long without fire, they become too thick and it becomes much more expensive to manage. When a wildfire occurs in a well-managed forest, it is usually much easier to manage for emergency teams.
“Something well managed is easy to keep well managed,” he said.
In addition, as the forests thicken with vegetation, it becomes more difficult to walk in them, both for humans and animals.
“Humans are visual, we can’t smell or hear like animals,” Lezard said. “This is just my personal idea – but think about a long time ago, if we are going to walk to the cove, would you rather walk through the clear forest or the thick bush?”
Where forests were completely burned down, meadows would be created.
“The ungulates followed the grass. The bears follow the ungulates, ”he said.
When bears roam in well-managed forests, they are much easier to spot from a distance. Lezard said the presence of bears was largely welcome, as they increased the amount of food available by munching on berries and then walking around pooping the seeds on other fertile patches of the forest floor. Deer hunting is also easier in a managed forest because it allows clearer lines of sight.
In a section of the band’s land that was scorched by a forest fire many years ago, Lezard felt there was an opportunity to keep this area well managed, but too much time has passed since. and the earth has accumulated too much fuel for a prescribed burn. be applied safely. A few years after this fire, he recalls that berry shrubs had become abundant in the affected areas, but it didn’t take long for the shrubs to take over and crush the edible plants.
“It looked like it was a very large orchard in Saskatoons.
With proper forest management, he said, “you can make sure that the things you want to come back come back.”
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Although Lezard and a team of around 10 conducted a successful burn earlier in 2021, he said the practice was not going in a positive direction and that too many sections of the local wilderness were currently overrun with the vegetation.
Lezard’s grandmother knew effective methods of burning plots of their rotating land each year, and although she shared much of her wisdom with him and another relative before her passing, he feels that his expertise was irreplaceable. Although he has learned about prescribed burns for decades, he still considers himself a student on the subject.
“She knew where to burn and when to burn. His grandmother taught him how to do this.
He remembers that she taught him that every fire is unique and that the most important part of any fire is to set an intention for its purpose.
“When you make a fire – you know there are fires for cooking, fires for garbage, to clean the earth – you have to put it in your heart, what is the intention of your fire that you are making? that time, ”he said. “You have to say your intention out loud. ”
The first forest fires that Lezard’s ancestors benefited from were likely started naturally by lightning, he predicts, before they were started intentionally.
“It has accumulated over the generations. Eventually, they realized that by doing it every now and then, over generations, if you do it like that, that’s what happens.
To perform a prescribed burn, Lezard said it’s important to make sure the soil temperature is low enough to prevent the fire from spreading too quickly, so never during the summer months. He said strong guard lines need to be installed and well protected, plan for when the weather forecast looks favorable and a team that understands the natural environment needs to be in charge.
“They need to know what the earth is doing, what it currently looks like and what it might look like. People who know how to make it better for everyone – better for us, for the animal, for the plants – that’s what it’s all about, it’s balancing it for every living being.
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