a remedy for 'geriatric Sask. forests, official says
areas deemed long overdue for renewal By James Parker
will be little comfort to Finance Minister Eric Clines expense
forecasts or cottage owners who have seen their properties go
up in smoke, but a senior official with the Environment Department
says Saskatchewan forests must burn.
Wilicocks, director of the environment 'department forest ecosystems
branch, said recently the province has a "geriatric" forest
which is overdue to be swept clean by fire.
have so much overmature forest right now," said Willcocks,
who has overseen a controversial expansion of the provinces
at Nisbet Forest (near Prince Albert). That should have burned
30 years ago. Ive been teffing people its going to burn. It
was great we could protect the homes with all the hard work we
But ecologically, it (the fire) is great news."
was referring to the Crutwell fire, a blaze which scorched more
than 9,000 hectares just west of Prince Albert in June. City
residents watched with alarm as firefighters struggled to extinguish
the menacing flames. The fire is still being mopped up.
Crutwell fire underscored the extensive damage caused by forest
fires this year.
fires have burned
852,000 hectares of forest in the province, with most of the
damage done in areas where the government responds immediately
to fires (the full response zone).
compares to a 10-year average at this date of 530 fires
and 346,000 hectares destroyed. Last year at this time, 609 fires
had burned 171,000 hectares.
has a 12-million hectare commercial forest and 35.5-million hectares
of forest in total, more than half the province.
April 1 to July 31, the provincial government spent $78 million
fighting fires year, compared to $51 million during
all of last year. (During the same three-month period, Alberta
spent $207 million fighting fires).
fires have destroyed cottages at Turtle Lake, forced the evacuation
of several northern communities and left some rural municipalities
on the hook for millions of dollars in costs, most of which has
been forgiven by the provincial government.
conceded the costs involved in fighting fires are disastrous
and the danger they pose to people and property is serious. He
suggested the danger could be eased if forestry production was
boosted even more.
lightning starts and you have high trees, what happens is you
have alot of dead material. You have kindling to start the
fire. Those fires up at Dore (Lake), you couldnt even find the
because the smoke was hanging there for 500 acres. We brought
in helicopters and we almost crashed one because you couldnt
see the fire
said he almost weeps when he travels on the Hanson Lake Road
in northeastern Saskatchewan and views forests which were destroyed
by fire in 1995.
so beautiful now. Its a young forest. I like young trees. When
I cut a forest down, I think about the young trees Im going
Johnston, a scientist at the Saskatchewan Research Council, said
the boreal forest has evolved over thousands of years with fire
as part of its ecology. He said all species of trees are capable
of coping with periodic fire and regenerating quickly after a
you look at the age-class distribution of the forest in Saskatchewan,
you see that the majority of the forest is reaching a point
that under the long-term average it would probably have a fire.
that sense, the forest is old. Whether its too old or not depends
upon what youre seeking in terms of the value of the forest?
said Willcocks expresses the "fibre production" view of forests.
view is that a younger, rapidly-growing forest is desirable
from a fibre production point of view. Thats not necessarily
from other perspectives. The forest has lots of different values
for different people. It depends upon who you are as to whether
that old forest is a bad thing."
August 7, 2022