The 20-hectare area being researched has a variety of fuel types, and the research will help contribute to an understanding of fuel loading effects and potential fire behaviour. Lindsay Chung photo

Research project at Quesnel airport lands looks at wildfire fuel loads and fuel management

The research will contribute to an understanding of potential fire behaviour

A research project taking place near the Quesnel Regional Airport will help the City of Quesnel understand potential fire behaviour and forest fire fuel loading effects.

The City’s Forestry Initiatives Program, in collaboration with FPInnovations, is carrying out a research project on the airport fuel management unit (FTU 14), which has been identified in the 2017 Quesnel and Surrounding Area Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

Fuel Treatment Unit 14 is located adjacent to the Quesnel Airport and is a heavily-treed area with a variety of fuel loads and the presence of ladder fuels. As well, there is heavy wildlife activity, and it is considered of significant importance to the surrounding community.

Working with the FPInnovations Forest Operations group, the City is utilizing funding from Forest Enhancement Society of BC to enable this project, which will ultimately contribute to the understanding of fuel loading effects and potential fire behaviour, as well as the maintenance of fuel management units over time using prescribed fire.

Steven Havengaard and Marian Marinescu from FPInnovations were on-site Sept. 24-27 to establish nine permanent plots over the 20-hectare area (Unit 14 AB). The test plots will capture baseline data on fibre type, stand structure, fuel loading, duff layer and soil type characteristics.

Two members of the Kluskus Band were assisting with the sampling, so that there is the option of them carrying on the work in the future.

Havengaard says they are looking at a variety of fuels that contribute to fire spreading, including the organic materials lying on the forest floor; ground fuels like roots; ladder fuels that contribute to fire spreading up from the ground to the tree’s crown, like tall shrubs and bark flakes; and crown heights.

“These are all the different things that can contribute to fuel behaviour, so trying to quantify, qualify those different fuel layers and trying to evaluate how those are going to contribute to potential fire behaviour, that is essentially what we’re doing,” he said. “There are some fire behaviour models … Those are really good tools, but we really need to rely on an intuitive evaluation of this fuel environment as well. They both go hand-in-hand. We need to take a close look at all those elements of that fuel environment and how they all interact and contribute to the overall fire behaviour.”

Fuel management (selective logging) operations began Sept. 27, with Freya Logging Inc. and Seneca Enterprises Ltd. from Prince George partnering to do the harvesting.

The contractors are using a single grip harvester to directional fall, de-limb and cut to length on the spot. The single grip harvester is also equipped to pickup, load, and transfer most of the debris left from harvesting and remove it from the treatment area.

The FPInnovations Forest Operations group will carry out a time-study on the productivity of the equipment, falling and extracting in hopes of documenting the removal of fibre and the associated costs.

This research project will be able to contribute to methods for predicting fire effects from on-site fuels — using pre-harvest and post-harvest debris load inventory. As well, it will help contribute to the understanding of fuel loading on the amount of smoke and the amount of soil heating from prescribed fires, enable the development of additional tools to describe fuels for fire management and contribute to understanding the productivity of harvesting, processing and fuel management methods.

Erin Robinson, the City’s Forestry Initiatives Manager, says this work will help the City identify how to maintain fuel management.

During the selective harvesting, most of the big fir trees will be retained — as long as there are no forest health issues — and the area will end up looking park-like, she explained, noting the City will create a multi-use recreational trail after the project is completed.

READ MORE: Quesnel’s new Forestry Initiatives Program up and running

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