A firefighter working on fires outside Fort Smith in August 2023. Photo: Parks Canada
So many trees were cut down during efforts to protect Fort Smith from this summer’s wildfires that the town now has huge timber piles and a tight timeline to deal with them.
“There’s probably too much wood for people in the community, so I’m not sure what we’re going to do next. We’ll have to look into that,” Mayor Fred Daniels told Cabin Radio by phone on Wednesday.
Fort Smith residents were away from home for 37 days after wildfires triggered the town’s evacuation in August, but efforts to create fire breaks and other defences went on around the community for months. That often involved stripping back forested areas to remove fuel sources in case the fires reached the town.
How all the timber is cleaned up became a topic of discussion at a town council meeting on October 10. Councillors unanimously agreed on the urgency of the matter but had varying views about what to do.
The NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is expected to assist with reclamation work and associated funding, but only if the clean-up occurs within six months, town director of protective services Adam McNab said during that meeting.
“Should we elect to keep all of those decks of timber for greater than six months, if they’re not consumed, used, and cleaned up, the municipality would need to foot the bill for that,” he added. (Maca did not respond before publication of this article.)
McNab said land immediately west of Fort Smith – “a large portion of that is town-owned land, some of it is Métis withdrawal land, and a portion of it is Salt River First Nation land” – was heavily logged to prepare for the possibility of a wildfire coming close.
More logging took place east of the water treatment plant and south of Pine Crescent.
“There’s a lot of timber sitting there. There’s far more timber than we can consume as a community in the time that it remains viable,” he said.
McNab expressed concern that the logs – with their limbs still intact – could act as a fire hazard if they are not cleared up. If the timber begins curing over the next few years, he said, it will eventually rot.
Councillor Leonard Tuckey stressed the importance of seeking advice from Indigenous leaders, considering the land on which the timber was cut.
“They have the right to make the decision first. We don’t have the right to take that authority away,” he said. (Cabin Radio could not reach the Salt River First Nation for comment.)
Indigenous governments are understood to be making a plan for logs piled on their land while the town focuses on the timber cut from town-owned areas, Daniels said.
Other suggestions from councillors included a plan to allow community members to access firewood from the timber, and involve local contractors harvesting wood. Concerns were also raised about logs potentially hurting residents if they tried to collect wood in an unsafe manner.
The mayor reiterated the urgency of clearing up the logs to ensure funding can be accessed from elsewhere.
“We need to get it done before the six months,” he told Cabin Radio. “The town doesn’t have that extra money to be paying for this.”
For timber on town-owned land, the mayor said firm decisions will be made in the next week. He said the town is working with Maca on next steps.
Update: October 24, 22:01 MT – A Maca spokesperson initially said staffing issues prevented the department from responding ahead of publication. After this article was published, the spokesperson said they had misspoken. The article has been updated to reflect that.