Redstreak Restoration Project
In 2003, Parks Canada initiated a multi-year ecosystem management project in the south end of Kootenay National Park to help restore fire-maintained grassland and open forest ecosystems in the Columbia Valley. The project is part of a cooperative, regional ecosystem restoration program to restore open forest and grasslands that will also benefit bighorn sheep winter range in the Radium Hot Springs area.
Restoring fire adapted ecosystems
Historically, the low elevation forests of the Columbia Valley depended on periodic, low-intensity surface fire to maintain their open structure and ecosystem functions. Decades of fire suppression have resulted in the loss of open Douglas-fir forest and grassland ecosystems due to forest ingrowth and encroachment. Many native species are being adversely affected, including the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
The wild sheep's winter range was historically much greater around Radium Hot Springs than it is today. Increasingly, the local band is being 'forced' into urban environments around Radium that mimic their natural winter habitat lawns, highway verges, and golf courses. Here they face many stresses, the most serious being a high rate of highway mortality. Consequently, restoration of critical sheep winter range and associated open forest and grassland ecosystems is a management priority.
Reducing the risk of severe wildfire
View of Radium Hot Springs and the restoration area above it. © Parks Canada
In fire-maintained forests, fire and forest pests are linked in an ecological dynamic. Without periodic fire, the open forest begins to choke up with dense numbers of trees competing for limited light, water and nutrients. The stressed trees become more susceptible to forest pests. As infestations spread, dead and dying trees increase woody fuels and fire soon follows. Both Douglas-fir beetle and western false hemlock looper (a caterpillar/moth) have infested the forests around Radium Hot Springs. Consequently, the risk of catastrophic fire next to the community and Redstreak Campground is on the rise.
Restoration project goals
The Redstreak Restoration Project has two major goals:
- restore fire-maintained grassland and healthy open forest ecosystems that the Radium-Stoddart Bighorn sheep band historically relied upon for winter range, and
- reduce dangerous forest fuel loads and the risk of catastrophic fire adjacent to park facilities and the local community that have resulted from fire suppression.
The first phase of restoration required tree cutting and removal to allow the subsequent use of a series of small, prescribed fires over the next several years. Trees were be cut and removed in January and February 2003 from three small areas totalling ~150 hectares (1.5 km2 ), with objectives to:
- reduce dangerous forest fuel levels in and around Redstreak Campground,
- create a fire guard on the east side of the campground, and
- create an open landscape with scattered patches of trees adjacent to a provincial block of land that has already undergone restoration as part of this regional effort.
Tree removal took place during winter to minimize impact from heavy equipment to soils and small plants and shrubs. Revenues from harvested trees were used to support the restoration project. Tree removal was necessary in and around Redstreak Campground to more safely allow the use of the most ecologically appropriate tool to restore fire-maintained ecosystems -- carefully planned and managed prescribed burns. Prescribed burning will begin early spring, 2005 given the right conditions for a safe and effective burn.
Grasslands are British Columbia's most endangered ecosystem. Threats include fire suppression, urban encroachment, development and non-native plant invasions. Grasslands support nearly one third of the province's endangered or threatened species, including the prairie falcon, American badger, long-billed curlew, sharp-tailed grouse, bluebunch wheatgrass, and Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep.
Periodic low intensity surface fire will be used to burn out young trees from among large, fire-resistant Douglas-fir trees to recycle nutrients and restore open forest. As much as possible, prescribed fires are conducted under conditions that limit the smoke produced. Forest thinning and small surface prescribed fires will restore a total of 350-400 hectares (3.5-4 km2) of fire-maintained open forests and grasslands on the bench and slopes of Redstreak Mountain.
The short-term inconveniences associated with prescribed fire, such as smoke and patches of blackened trees will more than be offset by the long-term benefits of restored open forests and grassland ecosystems. People will also benefit from the reduced risk of catastrophic fire.
Bighorn sheep research
In 2003, ten local adult bighorn sheep have been radio-collared to allow remote satellite monitoring of their seasonal movements. Monitoring will help identify critical ranges (e.g for lambing) and migration corridors between seasonal ranges. This knowledge will allow Parks Canada and others members of the Radium-Stoddart Bighorn Sheep Working Group to evaluate and refine our cooperative ecosystem restoration efforts.
Radium bighorn sheep working group
The Radium-Stoddart Bighorn Sheep Working Group members include Bighorn In Our Backyard, British Columbia Ministry of Forests, British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways, Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Village of Radium Hot Springs, Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council, Parks Canada, Slocan Forest Products, East Kootenay Wildlife Association, and British Columbia Southern Guide Outfitters Association.
Kootenay National Park protects or restores ecosystems within, and in cooperation with adjacent land managers, across park boundaries that reflect the native species and ecological processes characteristic of the central Canadian Rockies and the adjacent Rocky Mountain Trench.
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