Locals grill NACFOR on wildfire risk reduction plan

·4 min read

Nakusp community forest company representatives spent the better part of two hours at a recent open house trying to convince locals they weren’t out to destroy a neighbourhood water supply for fast profit.

The Nakusp and Area Community Forest annual open house on May 26 was dominated by concerns about a proposed wildfire risk reduction program on Box Mountain.

“At the end of the day, it is a community forest, and if the community doesn’t want this, it’s not going to happen,” said NACFOR General Manager Hugh Watt when answering one question.

The first part of the meeting was taken up with NACFOR presentations about the company, its 2020 operations, and the economic benefit it brings to Nakusp. But it was the community forest company’s plans to implement wildfire risk reductions that concerned residents of the Box Mountain neighbourhood.

NACFOR has been reducing the risk of fast-spreading wildfires in other areas surrounding Nakusp for the last couple of years, accessing government grants designed to help communities protect themselves from fire danger. Two areas on the side of Box Mountain, just south of Nakusp, are on the planning map as part of that defensive firebreak around the community.

But the plan has prompted angry online chat on community boards for the last few weeks, and the question queue in the online Zoom meeting was filled with residents’ concerns.

“If it’s purely wildfire risk reduction, can this goal be achieved without treating these areas as a typical timber harvest operation?” asked Ramsay McKee.

“There is no life without water,” wrote a person who identified themselves as Milan. “The trade-off between a potential fire risk reduction (not elimination) for almost certain drinking water loss for 500 people does not seem to fulfill the needs of community.” “If the affected properties do not want this wildfire risk reduction performed, why would it continue?” asked Randy Speers.

One by one, Watt and other staff tried to address the concerns. Watt noted that the Box Mountain part of the program is still very much in the earliest planning phases – no funding has been raised to do the work; no pre-work water or forest studies have been completed in the area; and a prescription is far from being drawn up.

Watt said several times the community forest wasn’t doing this for ‘quick profit’ and wasn’t just clearcutting areas – rather, they are selectively logging and hand-clearing brush. He pointed out that the Box Mountain work was part of a larger plan to protect Nakusp from future fires, which are more likely to happen due to climate change.

“There’s no reason we would engage in something that would cause a loss of drinking water on Box Mountain,” he told the online meeting. “We’re mortal humans trying to carry out a mission we see as a valuable mission… we’re in a society where it’s not possible for everyone to end up happy, but we’ll shoot for 80% – maybe 70. But we don’t see the certainty of drinking loss for 500 people.

“But you might get drinking water loss if you get a catastrophic fire there.”

Watt promised people would have “tangible input” when the community forest was ready to bring a plan before residents of the affected area. But he said they’re not at that point yet, saying they were at the “absolute starting point” of resident input on the issue.

“What we have is a plan on paper, and we’re perfectly willing to have a look at things and make it better,” he said. “If there’s any real risk of damage, it just won’t happen, period.”

Several of the 40 people attending the Zoom meeting thanked the NACFOR staff for taking more than two hours to answer people’s questions.

“Thank you for demonstrating your willingness to answer each and every question people have, without becoming defensive,” posted Corrine Tessier to the Zoom chat.

While many people seemed mollified by Watt and staff’s assurances, it was clear that others would never accept clearcutting work in the area that provides their drinking water.

“To be quite honest with you, Hugh, I would rather see my house burn, than cut down a mature forest,” said Barb Whyte. “Because a house can be rebuilt in our lifetime. A mature forest cannot be.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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