By Eric Elliott

Pioneer Staff

Taking a walk on the Old Coach Trail, you may notice the roaring of chainsaws and machinery as part of the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative to decrease the density of the forest throughout the area to prevent wildfires.

The work is part of the Village of Radium Hot Springs Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which the Village implemented to bring the surrounding areas up to FireSmart Canada Standards, chief administrative officer for the Village Mark Read told The Pioneer. Mr. Read said this Protection Plan was established years ago while working on improving FireSmart standards within the Villages jurisdiction first, before being able to work outward to regions outside their jurisdiction like the Old Coach Trail just south of the Village.

Within the Plan, there were a number of areas that were categorized as high-risk areas with others as medium hazard areas. The area surrounding the Old Coach Trail was one labeled as a high hazard area for the possibility of wildfires. Through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM), the Village received funding from the provincial government, which they were able to use to hire Summit Valley Contracting Ltd. to reduce the density within the trail region, known as wildfire interface work.

The idea is to reduce the fire hazards in that area, said Greg Dubois, president of Summit Valley Contracting. Theres still going to be a forest here, but were reducing the fuel loading and density, giving firefighters an area to hopefully stop the fire from reaching structures in the Village of Radium Hot Springs.

Mr. Dubois said a wildfire cant be fully stopped, as made evident by the Fort McMurray wildfire earlier this year, but through cutting down some of the smaller tree stems within the area and controlling the density, future damage could be mitigated.

Were reducing the forest density, the number of trees in the forest, from about 1000 stems per hectare to approximately 300 stems per hectare, he said. Were leaving all the larger stems.

This type of wildfire interface work is done regularly, according to Mr. Dubois. His company recently finished another contract within the Radium Hot Springs area, and another in Canal Flats earlier this year. Unlike past projects, however, Mr. Dubois and his team are placing the cut-down trees along the Old Coach into a chipper and spreading the chips on the forest floor, which he said is good for the environment.

Were leaving the carbon on site so it will slowly decay over time and go into the soil, he said. Thats a positive because alternatively youd have to burn the debris so, of course, by burning youre putting the carbon into the atmosphere and smoke which people dont necessarily like for health reasons and smell.

Mr. Dubois said the work on the trail will be ongoing until Christmas this year and wanted to express a reminder to the public to exercise caution when using the trails.

Were not closing it and were encouraging people to come, but just pay attention when you approach machinery or people with chain saws to just stop and make sure that the operator knows that theyre approaching and get their attention and look for the operator to give them an all clear signal, he said.