The May, 2016 wildfire had a significant and lasting impact on the forests and greenspaces of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). Wildfires are a natural and essential part of how the boreal forest sustains and regenerates itself.
Some regrowth, reforestation and re-greening will happen naturally over time, while there are other areas in which the RMWB will be working with forestry experts to help the process along.
The Municipality recognizes that forests and greenspaces are incredibly valuable to its residents and to the wildlife and environment in the region.
Efforts will be made to remediate some areas were damaged during the May, 2016 wildfire, including removing many of the trees that were damaged in the wildfire, repairing trails to their pre-fire condition and planting grass seed in the first 30 metres of the firebreak areas.
The Municipality understands the importance of greenspaces and forested areas for recreation, mental wellness and community gathering, and will work to help restore many of these spaces.
During the May, 2016 wildfire, firefighting efforts had a significant impact on many of the trails in the community, damaging or partially destroying some of the community’s trails.
Recognizing the importance of these trails to residents in our community, the Parks department is working to replace all pre-existing trails to a condition equal to what was lost or damaged. There may be some cases where the exact location of the trail may shift slightly, but all paved trails will be replaced with a paved trail, all gravel trails will be replaced with a gravel trail, etc.
Trail remediation work will begin in spring 2017 with the project extending into 2018 in some areas. Recreational use will be limited while remediation work is taking place and heavy machinery is working in the area.
Hazardous tree removal
While the bulk of the hazardous tree removal program has now been completed, the Municipality will be working with residents and a third party contractor to find and remove remaining trees that pose a safety hazard to the community.
Residents with concerns about trees on or near their property, or elsewhere in the community, are asked to report their concerns by calling the PULSE Line at 780-743-7000 or by emailing email@example.com.
In order for a tree to be identified for removal, it must have severe health and structural support issues that place the tree at risk of falling down. Only trees that pose a safety hazard are selected for removal, but if a tree is deemed hazardous it will be removed whether it is living or dead.
If all trees in a certain area meet the criteria for hazardous tree removal, they will all be removed. Every effort is being made to preserve as much of the natural forested area as possible.
The Municipality is reviewing the rehabilitation options for areas where hazardous tree removal has been done. Feedback from residents for future considerations is welcome.
As firefighters worked to protect homes during the wildfire, firebreaks were created throughout the community. These firebreaks established large open areas between private properties and the forested areas.
The first 30 metres of the open areas created in these firebreaks will be rehabilitated to a minimum standard of topsoil and seed. Now that grading work to address pooling and drainage concerns is complete, another round of general grading is being done to address any remaining grading issues across the firebreak areas.
The plan to restore the first 30 metres of the firebreak areas includes the following work in each of the areas:
- Rough grade
- Fine grade
- Top soil
- Grass seed
These areas will be added to the Municipal mowing and maintenance program.
Trees will not be planted as part of the Municipality’s immediate remediation plan, but there is a possibility of planting trees as part of a longer-term firebreak restoration plan.
New trails will not be part of the immediate restoration but will be considered as part of long-term planning.
No decision has been made for restoration of the space that was cleared beyond the first 30 metres within the firebreak areas. Some possible options include allowing natural regrowth to occur over time, planting trees, seedling trees or maintaining an area clear of trees but allowing other growth to occur naturally. Other suggestions from residents are welcome and will be considered.
Trees will be planted in select areas throughout the region that were damaged in the May, 2016 wildfire. These areas will be identified by forestry experts. There are also currently non-profit organizations and private partners working in partnership with the Municipality on plans for reforestation within the region.
Tree Canada is a non-profit organization which promotes the planting and nurturing of trees in Canada. Tree Canada is working in collaboration with the Municipality to implement its Operation ReLeaf - Fort McMurray program to plant new trees in select areas throughout the region.
Tree Canada has announced a $1.3 million donation to support the program that will replant trees in the most heavily devastated areas of our region. Tree planting will begin this spring and will continue into 2018, and possibly 2019.
Since 2005, Tree Canada and the Municipality have planted approximately 25,000 trees together.
Residents looking to participate in the reforestation efforts can register now as volunteers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the PULSE Line at 780-743-7000. Once residents have registered as volunteers they’ll be contacted when needed for planting activities.
Work is ongoing throughout the RMWB using the seven disciplines of FireSmart:
- Vegetation management
- Legislation and planning
- Development considerations
- Interagency cooperation
- Emergency planning
- Cross training
FireSmart means living with and managing for wildfire on our landscape. According to FireSmart Canada, preparing for the threat of wildfire is a shared responsibility. From homeowners to industry to government, we all have responsibility to lessen the effects of wildfire.
Wildland Urban Interface is a popular term used to describe an area where structures and forested areas meet, like much of our community.
Simply put, Wildland Urban Interface is where the urban lifestyle meets environments that are prone to wildfire.
Wildfires are a natural part of Alberta’s wildland ecosystems. Without wildfire, the landscape loses its diversity. Wildfires recycle nutrients, help plants reproduce and create a mosaic of vegetation that provides habitat for a variety of wildlife. By choosing to extend our lifestyles and communities further into forested areas, we become more exposed to the danger of wildfire. Living where wildfires can occur puts your home at risk, but it is possible to live safely with this natural event. FireSmart Canada makes recommendations that, if followed, will reduce the risk of wildfire to your home and neighbourhood and help firefighters to defend your home.
FireSmart education includes teaching you about the work going on around you within the seven disciplines to plan better communities, legislate change, manage vegetation through trimming and pruning trees and shrubs which helps to reduce the fuel for a future fire and slow its growth and make it easier to fight, and plan for emergencies. FireSmart Education also includes teaching homeowners some of the tools they can apply to help mitigate the risk of a fire.
Adopting FireSmart principles will not prevent fires, but can help to mitigate the risk of a fire and to slow a fire should one occur, helping firefighters defend your home and community.