Tuesday, 28 May 2013 09:38

Prescribed burns cancelled for the year in Waterton Lakes National Park

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Officials in Waterton Lakes National Park were planning some prescribed burns this spring, but due to weather and dry conditions they were unable to complete them.

The ‘Y-Camp’ burn unit and the Eskerine Complex was scheduled to be burned the weekend of May 10-14. However, necessary conditions were not met. There were high winds that was a limiting factor for the burns.
“We were confident we could safely ignite the burn unit, but not confident that we could contain the fire within the forecasted winds. Parks Canada’s primary concern is the safety of people and protection of facilities and trained specialists determined that the ‘prescribed’ or necessary conditions were not conducive to a safe operation,” said Doreen McGillis, the external relations manager for the Waterton Lakes Field Unit, in an email interview.
Preparations were made that weekend including a fire line along the south boundary. McGillis said this fire line can be used in future years for prescribed burns.
Even though the prescribed fires didn’t take place, McGillis said Parks Canada isn’t too worried about the land or wildlife.
“The purpose of the prescribed fire was to restore native prairie by reducing aspen and evergreen
tree expansion onto grasslands. The fact that the prescribed fire did not occur does not increase the probability of a wildfire,” said McGillis.
Both the Eskerine Complex and Y-Camp area are located in the foothills Parkland Eco-region in Waterton Lakes National Park. Prescribed fires in these two areas would have helped reduce the aspen forest cover in the Y-Camp burn unit to the historic levels. As well it would have maintained aspen groves at their current level in the Eskerine Complex.
“This in turn would improve habitat conditions for grassland-dependent species such as elk. The prairie component of the Foothills Parkland Eco-region provides essential forage for wintering elk populations in the region,” said McGillis.
She added there were no prescribed fires last year in the area, but Parks Canada hopes the conditions will allow for them to burn next year.
Due to the prescribed fires not being done in the spring, McGillis said Parks Canada will work towards creating fire guards in either or both of the burn units this fall, to prepare for next spring.
With 30 years of experience in reintroducing fires in national parks, the overall goal of fire management is to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems.
The ecosystems include the wildlife while also protecting the facilities and public from wildfires.
The dry conditions not only played a role in the cancelled prescribed fires, but also in many fire bans being issued throughout the province.
“It is quite dry across the province of Alberta. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development monitors  conditions and sends out advisories about conditions,” said Susan Johnson, communications for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, in an email interview before the wet weather received late last week.
With many fire bans being put in place during the long weekend this year, Albertans had to be careful when camping and check where they could have campfires.
Johnson said it’s important for Albertans to always be checking both the http://albertaparks.ca/
website for current provincial parks fire bans and https://albertafirebans.ca/ for municipal and other fire bans currently in place.
In some places the fire bans were lifted throughout the long weekend due to some rainfall.
“Putting fire bans in place is not an easy decision. We understand that a campfire is part of the experience, but we have a responsibility to protect the park and our visitors,” said Johnson.
Following May long weekend, the province did see some rain causing some fire bans to be lifted.
“Fire bans are one tool we can use. Fire bans help prevent wildfires caused by campfires, but don’t unfortunately prevent against other wildfires caused by power lines, lightning, or off-highway vehicles. It is extremely important for Albertans to respect the ban and help reduce human-caused wildfires by taking care in the forested areas,” said Richard Horne,
the community relations co-ordinator for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD), in an email interview.
Horne says they generally don’t have a problem with Albertans complying to the rules of fire bans, but if they do, people can receive up to a $5,000 fine as well as be held liable for all firefighting costs that are associated with the fire.
Horne stated on May 16 most of the province was still quite dry, more so in the central and southern regions.
The fire hazard is currently still high across the province. At this time of year, there isn’t a lot of lightning so Horne said most of the fires are human-caused and 100 per cent preventable.
Compared to last year, the conditions are quite a bit more dry.
“While generally we did have more snow this year compared to last year, southern Alberta and central-east Alberta were extremely dry in the fall and received below-average snowfall through the winter. Springtime conditions across much of the province rate a high to extreme fire hazard as dead and dry grass, twigs, leaves and branches can provide fuel for fast-moving grass fires,” explained Horne.
AESRD has created the ‘Alberta Wildfire app’ and is currently available for all Apple products. Horne says the app shows where fires are in the province in relation to where a person is located. It also provides emergency contact information.
For a full list of current fire bans and advisories in municipalities and provincial parks for the summer visit the two websites listed previously.

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