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FOREST INK: Wild fire guards should be part of urban planning

No one knows this better than the people responsible for the maintenance of BC Hydro power right of ways
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Williams Lake Tribune

With the loss on many properties again this year due to wild fires it seems appropriate to factor in the cost of permanent fire guards in some of the larger urban planning areas. In many cases the fire guards need maintenance to be effective in stopping wild fires. The good news is some agriculture activities could maintain the guards and be even become income generators.

Considering how well BC grows trees, the maintenance of permanent fire guards along with upgrading some rights of way for reducing wildfires will be an ongoing challenge. No one knows this better than the people responsible for the maintenance of BC Hydro power right of ways. Hydro maintains over 18, 390 km of transmission lines (60 kV to 500 kV) along 13,275 km of corridor covering over 77,015 ha.

According to their latest report they will be adding a further 365 km of transmission lines covering 1,895 ha of corridor over the five-year period covered by this plan to meet the growing needs for electric power in B.C.

Once the native vegetation is removed invasive plants are often introduced resulting in the need for a Integrated pest management (IPM) plan. Suppressing pest populations to acceptable levels using strategies are based on considerations of: - Biological, physical, cultural, mechanical, behavioural and chemical controls in appropriate combinations, Environmental and health protection; and Evaluating the effectiveness of pest management treatments.

The native plant community is also persistent in reestablishing resulting in the need for a plan, the Integrated vegetation management (IVM) plan is a system of managing plant communities in which compatible and incompatible vegetation is identified, action thresholds are considered, control methods are evaluated, and selected control(s) are implemented to achieve specific objectives. Choice of control methods is based on effectiveness, environmental impact, site characteristics, safety, security, and economics. IVM is considered a best management practice in utility vegetation management as the most effective, safe, economical, and environmentally sound procedure(s) for maintaining electric rights-of-way.

Most transmission corridors run cross-country in rural or undeveloped areas on statutory rights-of-way but many lower voltage 69 kV circuits are along road allowances. The legal widths of transmission rights-of-way vary from 10 to about 300 metres.

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Manual and Mechanical control are physical controls of vegetation that include activities such as pruning, hazard tree removal, mowing, brushing, grubbing, and girdling.

• Biological control methods involve the reduction or suppression of unwanted organisms by introducing or enhancing the presence of natural enemies, such as insects, fungi, or compatible competitive plants. It is often used in noxious weed/invasive species control.

• Chemical control is management of incompatible vegetation through the use of herbicides. Aerial applications of herbicides are not permitted under this plan.

What caught my attention was the section on Cultural control as management of vegetation in a way that suppresses the growth of incompatible target species through the use of crops, pastures, parks or other managed landscapes, e.g. compatible use. Using some of these methods to maintain fire breaks around some of the larger urban areas would make sense in that the larger populations could incorporate many of these uses in their longterm fire management plans. The initial development costs and annual maintenance costs could be covered by many of these activities. Some positives could include farming and ranching opportunities, reduced fire insurance costs along with improved recreation activities.

Most of the information in this article was taken from the BC Hydro IVMP report. For more information the following contact was listed. Tom Wells, Vegetation Program Manager, Asset Sustainment, Transmission, Distribution and Customer Services 604-516-8943.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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