Tree replanting in areas burned by the 2017 wildfires is underway in the Cariboo region, which will help re-establish wildlife habitat, increase the future timber supply and capture greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Between now and the end of June 2019, about 22 million trees will be planted in burned areas in the Cariboo by contractors working for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Over 259 million trees will be planted throughout British Columbia this year.
Reforestation activities in the Cariboo this year are concentrated in areas where the three largest wildfires occurred in 2017, with 11 million trees being planted in the Plateau Fire Complex area (545,000 hectares burned), 10 million trees in the Elephant Hill area (192,000 hectares) and 2.5 million trees in the Hanceville fire area (241,000 hectares).
Pine, fir and spruce are the main tree species being planted in the region. Deciduous trees, mainly aspen, will also be planted to improve wildlife habitat and enhance biodiversity. Tree planting will also help stabilize soils and watersheds in the Cariboo region, eventually reducing runoff that could lead to flooding.
The 2017 wildfire season caused record-setting damage, burning about 796,000 hectares of land in the Cariboo region and over 1.2 million hectares provincewide. Slightly over half of the trees in affected areas in the Cariboo were lost to fire, representing about 22 million cubic metres of green timber and 12 million cubic metres of timber already killed by mountain pine beetles.
The first year of this post-wildfire replanting program will focus on areas within fire sites where the government managed plantations of immature trees. These trees were too young to produce seed cones and regenerate naturally. Replanting efforts in 2020 and 2021 will focus on areas containing large numbers of Douglas fir trees, old growth management areas and important wildlife habitat areas. The reforestation of areas affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the 2010 wildfires will continue.
Replanting areas affected by the 2017 wildfires is expected to take about a decade to complete, due to the large amount of land affected and a limited capacity to grow and plant additional tree seedlings. Some areas burned by the wildfires will not require replanting. For example, mature pine forests will be monitored but are expected to self-regenerate over time.
- Pine trees are more likely than other tree species to regenerate on their own following a wildfire because their hardy cones release seeds only after being heated, protecting the seeds from direct flames.
- Stands dominated by Douglas fir and spruce trees will require more planting to be adequately reforested, since their cones disperse seeds on a seasonal basis. These unprotected seeds often burn up in wildfires.
- Most tree seedlings are sown two years before the seedlings are planted. The first trees to be planted in the 2017 wildfire areas were sown in 2017, grown in nurseries during 2018, and then boxed up and frozen until the start of the 2019 planting season.
- Most tree planting occurs between late April and the end of June to ensure that the tree’s growth cycle — the time of year when existing buds flush, grow new needles and leaves, and then set new buds for the following year — remains in sync with the seasons.