Managing the forest to reduce wildfire risk
The boreal forest that covers most of Yukon has a special relationship with fire. Forested areas are replaced by natural cycles of disturbances every 50 to 200 years. These disturbances can include:
- insect invasions; and
- wildland fires.
In areas near communities where fires can do the most harm, we try to put out every fire. But when we stop fires from replacing forested areas, forests keep growing and become denser. A dense forest has a higher chance of catching fire and burning more intensely. This is a risk to communities.
We cannot control wildfire behaviour factors such as the weather and large-scale landscape features like rivers and mountains. Instead, we reduce fire risk by managing the vegetation.
The fuel management toolbox
We use several tactics to manage forests near communities. We take many factors into account when we choose the most appropriate method.
Changing the face of the forest
The 1st trees to regrow after a fire are called pioneer species. They've adapted to the wildfire cycle. These are often:
- deciduous trees such as aspen; and
- coniferous trees such as lodgepole pine.
Deciduous trees contain more moisture, so they're less flammable than coniferous trees. Pine trees regrow like a thick carpet and self-remove lower branches as they mature. This leaves fewer limbs near the forest floor that could catch fire and cause more of the tree to burn. These are nature’s way of reducing the number of catastrophic wildfires.
Our fuel management goals include:
- removing flammable conifers; or
- replacing them with fire-resistant deciduous trees.
This can take decades of regular fuel management at a given site.
Fighting fire with fire
Prescribed fire treatments are 1 of several ways we manage forests and grassy areas. This means we burn forests and grassy areas deliberately. It requires the expertise of Wildland Fire Management staff. These specialists understand the strict environmental and safety conditions under which prescribed fire treatments will be successful. Burning only happens when those conditions are in place.
We'll notify the public ahead of time.
Successful prescribed fires:
- reduce the amount of fuel that could burn during an unwanted wildfire; and
- help the transition from the most flammable conifer trees to fire-resistant deciduous trees; or
- reduce the density of conifer trees and dead vegetation.
Manual fuel removal
Fuel breaks can reduce the speed and intensity of an approaching wildfire.
There are 2 kinds of fuel breaks:
- A full fuel break is an area of land where vegetation has been completely removed.
- A shaded fuel break keeps fire-resistant deciduous trees while removing or spacing out more flammable conifers. Remaining trees must be at least 3 metres apart. We also remove the branches on remaining trees up to 2 metres from the ground. This prevents surface fires from climbing into the tree canopy.
In some cases, building a fuel break with machinery and hand tools is the safest and most effective way to remove fuel. They also help firefighters safely access and fight wildfires.
Current wildfire risk reduction projects
Dense, mature forests encircle many Yukon communities. To meet this challenge, we work with local governments to manage these forests.
You also have a role to play in wildfire safety.
The most effective way to reduce wildfire risk is by taking action at home. Protect your home and your community using the FireSmart principles at home.
Community Wildfire Protection Plans
A community wildfire protection plan is a strategy for reducing the wildland fire risk around a community. They're created by the community with support and technical input from Wildland Fire Management officials.
Each plan includes:
- prioritized areas where fuel management should take place; and
- recommendations to reduce the chances that wildland fires will damage structures.
Community Wildfire Protection Plans will be created for every Yukon community. They're currently being developed in:
- Haines Junction
- Watson Lake
- Old Crow
Whitehorse South Fuel Break
We've started work on a 395-hectare fuel break south of the City of Whitehorse. We created the project with the City as the 1st fuel break for this area.
The project is set to be completed in 2026. It will use a combination of:
- prescribed fire; and
- mechanical fuel removal.
Once finished, it will play an important part in reducing the city's wildfire risk.