Parks Canada proposes to cut trees and thin the forest along the southern edge of the Banff townsite to protect the tourist town from a potential runaway fire.
Using logging equipment and chainsaws, the federal agency is hoping to thin out 17 hectares and clean up dead and downed vegetation above the Valleyview residential subdivision, as well as by the Spray River.
Parks officials say the intent of the proposed project is to stop a wildfire similar to one in 1842 from burning northwards out of the Spray Valley and threatening the town.
“The aim is to apply FireSmart community standards for the protection of the Banff townsite from catastrophic wildfires,” said Brian Low, fire operations specialist for Banff National Park.
“Basically we’re creating a defensible space around the townsite perimeter to increase the effectiveness of suppression tactics if a wildfire was to occur.”
The proposed project, which has been on the books since 2004, will not go ahead until an estimated $100,000 in funding has been secured or the legally required environmental assessment is approved.
The deadline for public input on the environmental assessment is next Monday, June 20. If approved, the project would begin mid-November this year.
One of the sites is a forested area covering the lower potion of the slope between Mountain Avenue and the Valleyview neighbourhood, immediately upslope of the residential subdivision.
The other location is between the Spray River Trail and the east side of the Spray River, widening at its northern edge to encompass the length of the 15th fairway on the Banff Springs Golf Course.
The Banff townsite lies in an area subject to periodic fires.
To reduce the threat of wildfire to the town’s buildings, residents and visitors, a system of fuel breaks has been established in key areas around the town perimeter.
Fuel breaks serve to modify fire behaviour, reduce fire intensity and help firefighters suppress an advancing fire. This proposed project is another part of this fuel break system.
Parks has conducted detailed fire history studies in the Bow Valley and determined most of the forest targeted in this proposal originated from a large fire in 1842 travelling north up the Spray Valley.
Parks officials say these mature trees are capable of sustaining high intensity crown fires that are very difficult to fight and pose a threat to developed areas within the park.
“We’ve researched where historical fires have approached from and what kind of fire behaviour has occurred and we base our project design on that,” said Low.
Another potential scenario, which threatened the town in 1908, involves wildfire originating from the southwest side of Sulphur Mountain or Sundance Pass.
If another wildfire started, the fear is another blaze could spread, with prevailing southwest winds, towards Mountain Avenue and the Middle Springs subdivision.
Under these circumstances, the proposed thinning in the area above Valleyview provides a way to contain spot fires crossing the fuel break at Mountain Avenue, thereby protecting nearby homes.
Low said this is the last of the work completed in more than 20 areas, for a total of 250 hectares, on the perimeter of the Banff townsite since 2004.
He said the municipality has also done work on 56 hectares within the townsite boundary.
“We’ve made some significant progress towards our FireSmart goals,” said Low.
If people want more information on FireSmart community planning, check out www.partnersinprotection.ab.ca