Pembina Fire impact examined
September 5, 2023 By Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In an effort to fully understand the damage caused by the wildfire in the Pembina Forest Management Area, councillors Tom McGee and Mayor Nancy Dodds reached out to Weyerhaeuser earlier this month.
“We went out to their site and saw the damage to their FMA,” said McGee at the August 16 council meeting.
The two met with Jeff MacKay, the general manager of Pembina Timberlands, to get a better feel for the damage that was done and what the fire would mean for residents.
MacKay says that even though there were 1.9 million hectares burnt, much of that wood can still be used at the mills. He says that unless they are infested with insects or they don’t pass a standard check, the lumber will continue to be harvested.
“Weyerhaeuser’s harvesting operations have already begun salvaging fire-killed trees for our Drayton Valley Lumber and Edson OSB mills,” said MacKay in an email interview.
MacKay says that Weyerhaeuser is aware that they provide jobs to many people in the Drayton Valley and Edson area. He says there are roughly 700 employees within the area. However, no one will need to worry about losing their jobs as a result of the wildfire.
“We expect to maintain a reliable supply of fibre to operate our mills at forecasted rates for the foreseeable future,” he says.
When the fire first started, MacKay says the number one priority was on safety. He says he was relieved to hear that the impact wasn’t as bad as he imagined it would be, given the nearby communities.
Some of that success is due to the contributions of Weyerhaeuser staff and their contractors, who also contributed to the firefighting efforts of that time.
While there is no one cause for the fire in the FMA, as the major fire was a result of many different fires in the same area, MacKay says they know some of the cause was lightning strikes. However, they are still investigating the area and may find other results.
The fire didn’t wipe out everything in the 1.9 million hectares, says MacKay. Instead, there are patches of untouched trees throughout the area that didn’t burn. He says the area has a lot of overgrown mature trees, and for the most part those were what was affected.
He says those overgrown areas are partly the result of the efforts of many firefighters in the past half century. However, while firefighting is essential to keep communities safe, too much overgrowth can make the forest more susceptible to major fires like the one from this summer.
Preventing overgrowth is one way the forestry industry can help in proactive fire prevention efforts, says MacKay.
“Forestry can be used as a tool to replace natural disturbances on the landscape by reducing fuel loading in the forest,” he says.
He says some wildfire scientists are saying they are seeing extreme wildfire behaviour that isn’t typical in Alberta. The size and intensity of the fires in the province have been increasing over the past decade.
“The wildfires this spring were driven by strong winds, high temperatures, and low relative humidity. Combined with drought conditions early in the spring, prior to the leaves flushing on the trees, resulted in wildfires moving over 30 kilometres in a single day,” says MacKay.
MacKay says the meeting with McGee and Dodds was appreciated. “We have a strong relationship with Mayor Dodds and Councillor McGee which benefits the forest industry in our community, especially during upset conditions like we have seen with the 2023 wildfires,” he says.
McGee told Council that there would be another meeting to garner more information as they had run out of time to talk to Dave Swindlehurst, a Silviculture Forester with Weyerhaeuser.
“He’s going to come before council and make a presentation in September, which I’m sure you will find interesting.”
Amanda Jeffery is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Drayton Valley and District Free Press.
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