A history of wildfire suppression in northern British Columbia (BC) has led to an increasingly uniform landscape, resulting in lower ecosystem diversity and diminishing habitat for wildlife. Fire, applied under appropriate conditions, releases nitrogen into soils, which results in a post-fire “nutrient flush”. This nutrient flush stimulates plant growth, and improves the nutritional value of vegetation by increasing the protein content and digestibility of forage plants. Fire also ‘opens up’ habitats by burning away woody debris and reducing the number of shade-producing canopy trees.
Prescribed fire has long been identified as a natural and effective way to restore heterogeneity across the landscape and over the past 40 years, burn programs in northeastern BC have created habitats that now support the diversity and abundance of wildlife that the region is known for. Large mammals such as moose, elk, grizzly bear, Stone’s sheep, bison, mountain goat, mule deer, and white-tailed deer all benefit from the use of prescribed fire. The persistence of these wildlife values is important for traditional use by First Nations, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities.
Diverse land stakeholders in north-central BC, including First Nations, hunters, guide outfitters, and wildlife enthusiasts, have recognized the ecological and wildlife habitat value of returning fire to the land base, and have engaged experts at Wildlife Infometrics to lead two prescribed burn programs in the north, with the primary objectives of: (1) restoring wildlife habitat that has been lost due to fire suppression and (2) maintaining existing early seral habitats that are threatened by aspen encroachment. Both programs will result in improved habitat conditions and availability to support healthy populations of moose, elk, grizzly bear, Stone’s sheep and mountain goat.
To ensure we are meeting our objectives with these projects, effectiveness monitoring programs will be used to ask: (1) did we create the desired habitat condition (e.g. early seral grassland) and (2) did we increase the usage of the site by the targeted wildlife population(s)?. Vegetation and wildlife use data will be collected and compared prior to burning, at different yearly intervals post-burning (1-year, 5- year and 10-year post-treatment), and at “control” sites that remain unburned.
Funding for the prescribed burn program is provided by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Peace Region Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program; the latter on behalf of its program partners BC Hydro, the Province of BC, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations and Public Stakeholders who work together to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by existing BC Hydro dams.