Bob Gray says B.C. spends a small fraction of what it should on wildfire prevention. Photo submitted

More planned forest fires needed: wildfire expert

Bob Gray is one of the speakers at a Nelson conference about climate change and wildfire

Bob Gray thinks we need more forest fires in B.C. – fires that are prescribed, planned, and large.

“That’s the only way to create barriers to wildfires,” he said, adding up to 40 per cent of B.C.’s forests should be barriers to wildfires, not fuel for them.

He says whenever we harvest, the harvest area should then be burned.

“Now a lot of our harvests, they do not function as fire breaks. They speed up the fire. We harvest and we don’t treat the slash. Everything we do out there does not impede fire flow.”

Gray will present these and other ideas at Wildfire and Climate Change, a conference running Tuesday through Thursday this week in Nelson, featuring a variety of local and international speakers from government, industry and academia. He is a fire ecologist and the president of R.W. Gray Consulting Ltd. in Chilliwack.

“In the past,” he said, referring to the time before governments started aggressively suppressing forest fires, “an area that burned in a wildfire would possibly re-burn again once the trees came down and you would have this sort of fuel free situation. And then a forest grows into that, and it functions as a barrier for a long period of time.”

How does he know it happened this way?

“We have old historic aerial photographs and fire history studies using dendochronology (tree ring dating) to determine past fire activity. We actually can develop a good idea of what happened and we run that through simulation models and we calibrate it, and then we can start to simulate those patterns, and then apply future management scenarios to it.”

He said a lot can be discovered through these methods.

“We can look at past fires to see what burned in the perimeter and what burned the hottest and what has not burned at all, and we look for certain patterns and characteristics and we see stands that burned twice and survived wildfire because there is no surface fuel.”

Fires in the past weren’t as big as they often are today, he said.

“We did not have these 500,000 hectare fires, at least not very often, and so we are trying to see what that pattern and process was on the landscape, and what were those stand types were that functioned as barriers to fire and how can we recreate those practices.”

He said B.C. needs burning programs that have long term dedicated funding, not small short-term projects.

“We need programs situated in each fire zone with a combination of wildfire service crews and industry people — we need to have people trained up and qualified. You give them five years worth of funding and you make a schedule, what you are going to burn every year, and you have plans written out ahead of time and review and retrain. It is like a fire department.”

Gray is also known for his opinions about B.C.’s funding for wildfire prevention versus earthquake preparation.

He says over the past 10 years fighting wildfires in B.C. has cost tens of billions of dollars, yet governments have invested about $100 million in mitigation. He says the ratio is about two per cent. But with seismic upgrading it’s a different story.

“The interesting thing is, if we look at flood mitigation and seismic mitigation we see that the funding is almost 1 to 1.”

Related:

• Nelson conference will explore climate change and wildfire

• Wildfire fuel treatment expands in Nelson area

• Fire experts: Nelson could burn

• Action by Nelson area landowners key to wildfire safety, expert says

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chantal Schwark, left with Gerri Gill and Elle Schwark, 11 months old in the pumpkin patch at Arrowvale Farm. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Alberni Valley News)
Final day for Arrowvale pumpkin patch is Oct. 25

Drive down to the patch and pick your own pumpkin

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read