A crew torches trees in the Ribbon Creek drainage area as part of ongoing fireguard work for the Ribbon Creek prescribed fire in Kananaskis.Submitted Photo

Alberta Parks is tentatively planning to burn 260 hectares of forest in the Ribbon Creek drainage in Kananaskis this year that was initially prescribed for fire in 2023 but not ignited due to hot, dry conditions fuelling wildfire danger.

The burn is part of a larger 7,900-hectare prescribed fire plan being broken into several phases. Alberta Parks and Calgary Forest Area wildfire management unit officials have also, since proposing the plan last year, met with the Wild Sheep Foundation of Alberta to adjust the size of the burn to improve bighorn sheep habitat.

“They were very interested in increasing the size of the burn to enhance sheep habitat,” said Erica Samis, Calgary Forest Area forestry manager in a presentation to Kananaskis Improvement District council on Tuesday (March 19). “So, we worked with them, readjusted the plan and developed the plan as it currently stands now.”

The first 260-hectare subunit of the prescribed fire is located south of Nakiska Ski Resort and west of Kananaskis Village within the Evan-Thomas Provincial Recreation Area and Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park.

While ignition is slated for 2024, Samis said it isn’t “fully anticipated” it will take place this year with wildfire season starting earlier and ongoing drought conditions.

“Before we can light the unit, obviously we have to make sure that the indices are there – that we have the resources and the timing is right in order to do that,” she said.

According to Alberta Parks, the Evan-Thomas area has not seen any major wildfires since 1936, leading to an accumulation of forest fuels and a “very high risk of severe wildfire.”

The prescribed burn will create a fire break, shielding communities, resources and infrastructure nearby. It’s a proactive measure to curb potential wildfires and to keep them from spreading down the valley.

The established fire break will also create an area for firefighters to work in the area in case a wildfire does ignite.

The area is comprised of spruce, lodgepole pine and grassland meadows and prescribed fire is expected to improve habitat for wildlife, including bighorn sheep, bears, ungulates and other species.

“It will also improve human-wildlife coexistence in the valley by drawing wildlife species away from more populated areas where conflicts may occur,” states an Alberta Parks fact sheet for the project.

Fire will create more improved habitat and room for new plants to establish, drawing wildlife into the area and away from areas of high conflict with humans, like the ski resort and nearby lodges and trails.

Last year’s work on the prescribed burn focused solely on establishing a fireguard. The guard involved burning and cutting about 2.5 to three kilometres into the prescribed fire area, along an existing trail.

For the last week-and-a-half, Samis said this work has continued, but is likely to be halted until at least early April with new snowfall this week.

“We have decided to take a break … I’m not sure if we’re going to fire up again before Easter long weekend,” said Samis. “It’s all really going to depend on how much snow we get. But if we get what is forecasted, it is unlikely we will be able to resume our production.”

Ideal conditions for guard burning are when the trees in the guard area are “snow-free, but ample snow remains on the ground,” states the Alberta Parks fact sheet.

If ignition of the remaining burn area does occur this year, it is estimated to take about five to 10 days to complete.

“Operations on the first section of the main unit of the prescribed fire are contingent on success of spring guard construction, conditions throughout the summer and resource availability,” states the fact sheet.

Area closures took effect March 11 and are anticipated to lift March 28, but are subject to change.

Affected trails and day use areas include the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area, all Ribbon Creek hiking and ski trails, Mine Meadow Trail, Centennial Ridge Trail, Hidden Trail, Coal Mine Trail, Studless Trails and portions of Skogan, Milne and Terrace trails.

When ignition of the main unit occurs, area closures will be reinstated and communicated at albertaparks.ca/parks/kananaskis/evan-thomas-pra/advisories.

The second phase of the fire will likely focus on the southwest portion of the prescribed area, around Ribbon Lake and Ribbon Falls, but will not take place until at least 2025.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 27, 2024 at 14:43

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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