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Parks Canada protecting Banff and Lake Louise with fire break


Parks Canada is creating a 32.8-hectare fire guard at Protection Mountain on Highway 1A in Banff National Park to reduce the risk of wildfire to the community of Lake Louise and the surrounding area.

The south side of Protection Mountain is a strategic area for Parks Canada, because it's able to make a fire break by mechanically cutting trees.

The swath is 400 metres wide and 1.5 kilometres long and work on it started in December 2022.

Charlie McLellan is the fire and vegetation specialist with Parks Canada and says a lot of work has already gone on around the mountain communities of Banff and Lake Louise, but this project is on a larger scale.

"As a result of over a century of fire suppression, we've got an even age forest going from valley bottom to basically the rock and ice above in this location," said McLellan. "Which created areas without many natural features to manage fires."

McLellan says the effects of climate change have increased the length of the fire season in the park as well as increased the potential for large fires, so projects like this are needed to give park's staff a way to manage the large fires.

"If we get a fire and, in this location of the Bow Valley, we have something we can easily tie it into to reduce the size and spread of it," he said. "At least on one on one side and gain containment, which reduces a lot of impacts to communities or infrastructure or tourists visitation here, but also at a broader scale it will reduce the amount of smoke that we've been seeing in our summer months."

Shelley Tamelin is the wildfire risk reduction manager in the park and says the idea is to do a project like this ahead of the fire season so her department has a lot of time to plan and prepare.

"The location was chosen because we're tying into a natural feature," she said. "There is a rocky scree slope on the hillside that they're tying into, that meant that they didn't have to make the fire guard as big or as wide as you would normally require."

Tamelin says in exchange for doing the work, the lumber that comes off of the mountain side becomes the property of the contractor.

"So we don't pay to have the work done," she said. "He takes the wood as his profit on the project and we also do receive some funds from the logging contractor in exchange for the wood, and we're going to funnel those funds back into a restoration work."

Many saplings of endangered five needle pine trees have been found in the area and are being saved. By comparison a typical lodge pole pine has two needles.

"Every one of these little clusters has five needles," said Tamelin. "We don't know if that's a limber pine or a white bark pine, because it's too young to tell so we call it a fine needle pine."

McLellan says when the fire break is finished in mid-March that it will likely become a popular spot for wildlife.

"For example, grizzly bears in the valley here are often found in open habitats where they can find important food resources," he said. "Unfortunately, many of those areas often occur in areas with increased mortality along the highway or along the railway so this area provides a safe area for grizzly bears to forage." Top Stories

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