Trees to be thinned at near Pine Grove in Fire Smart preparation

This supplied map shows the areas to be targeted for brush reduction over the next several years.

Some of the trees in about six hectares of land east of Pine Grove will be thinned as the city works with the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Using some federal funding along with its own budget, the City of Prince Albert will start removing selected understory and some standing trees in high hazard areas in the next couple of weeks.

“What they’re after is the old pine and spruce,” said Timothy Yeaman, Parks and Open Spaces Manager for the Community Services department of the City.  “This is not a clear cutting practice. It is simply to thin out the forest and make it safer for some of our more high population areas.”

Of particular concern is the density of brush around the Pine Grove Correctional Centre. The area east of the facility will be the first to thinned, starting in about two weeks.

“Crews will be in there with chainsaws and some small equipment. Their job is to specifically go in and thin out the forest itself,” Yeaman said. “Pine Grove Correctional Centre is certainly at risk from forest fire if we didn’t go in and do anything with this area whatsoever.”

While a lot of the targeted clearing involves deadfall, occasionally some older standing timber is also cut. To determine how to best decide what to cut and what to leave, the City is working with the SPSA.

The SPSA has specialists in fire management that have given the City some good advice on what should be cut. 

“They’re the project lead. We work with their experts because they have the foremost knowledge on Fire Smart practices, where we should be looking at actually applying this practice too and what areas of the forest that fall within the municipality,” said Yeaman. 

Fire Smart is a program that started in Alberta in 1990 as the province worked to manage what is called the Wildland/Urban Interface, or the area where humans and nature overlap.

Disasters such as the burning of the town of Slave Lake in 2011 followed by the fire that also destroyed part of Fort McMurray in 2016 highlighted the need to protect communities that are surrounded by forest.

Clearing dead trees and cutting some trees that accelerate the spread of wildfire for a limited distance around a community can reduce the risk substantially.

While some of the projects in the Fire Smart program require municipal or other level of government to be involved, some are up to home owners such as not stacking firewood next to house or limiting highly flammable shrubs near buildings.

Part of what the City could do in the near future is also an educational component, Yeaman explained.

“Internally we’re working with fire services management team to look at what other particular areas we should be looking at,” he said.

Over the next five years, Prince Albert will spend just over $30,000 annually with the federal government also kicking in $21,000 per year for Fire Smart projects.

This year, six hectares east of Pine Grove will be targeted and next year they will look at the area north of the prison going up to the parking lot at Little Red River park.

After that they have their eye on the area north of the Lakeland ball diamonds.

The following years have yet to be determined but they expect every year it will be between six and eight hectares, as the funding allows. 

A wildfire north of Prince Albert earlier this spring served to highlight what they already have known for years, that the land north of the river was a high risk area that needed addressing.

“In talking with the fire chief, I know that Little Red has been a concern for years. Anything north of the river has been a concern for years because there have been wildfires,” Yeaman said. “This year just highlighted the need that we need to be a little more pro-active, that we certainly need to focus in and strategize.”

Work will start in the fall because that is when contractors are available and it still allows for time to dispose of slash piles.