In an effort to stop or slow the spread of wildfires in Banff National Park, Parks Canada has undertaken a proactive fire watch project along Highway 1A near the Protection Mountain Campground.
The Protection Mountain Fire Guard project is expected to be completed in March 2023 and will clear an area of 32.8 hectares to landscape level.
Contract work began on December 8 and will begin mobilizing equipment and creating temporary access roads to allow the flow of traffic while crews remove trees, burn debris and transport materials on and off site.
Dwight Bourdin, resource conservation manager for the Lake Louise, Yoho, Kootenay Field Unit with Parks Canada, said the area was chosen for the proactive fire watch for a few reasons.
“It’s really just giving us a line in the sand, a tactical place where if we have a wildfire in the valley, we can actually start to strategically control that fire because of what the landscape dictates a little bit … Just next to the Protection Mountain Campground has some protection from up there and ecologically it will open up that forest,” he said.
“It also provides good habitat for species such as grizzly bears, elk, deer and sloth and that was one of the key goals.”
The timeline for when cleanup will begin is largely dependent on the weather, Bourdin said, adding that conservation officers will be on site to ensure all environmental mitigations are followed.
Once cleanup begins, workers will be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the project is complete. Parks Canada said in a statement that they expect some intermittent road closures along that stretch of highway.
Work on the fire watch will prohibit public access to the area and a 500-meter section of the Baker Creek to Protection Mountain Campground cross-country ski trail will be closed.
“All efforts will be made to limit smoking during stack burning. However, unpredictable changes in weather can increase and divert smoke. Be prepared for possible delays and reduced visibility on portions of Highway 1A while fire occurs,” the Parks statement said.
Anyone in the area with respiratory conditions or severe sensitivity to smoke can be added to a smoke sensitive list by contacting the fire information officer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-341-4011.
Bourdin said another fire station, for the community of Lake Louise, is in the planning stages.
“(Projects like this) have a lot to do with resiliency and protecting the communities and infrastructure in the Valley, and everything that makes it safer for visitors … And helps build resilience for our parks and forest ecosystems that could ultimately be impacted by climate change become,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re proactive.”
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