Parks Canada has three prescribed burns on the books for 2011.
Fires are planned for the Red Deer River, Dormer River and Carrot Creek areas sometime this spring or fall, although it is unlikely all three burns will go ahead this year due to weather and personnel requirements.
Parks Canada officials say previous policy to suppress fires in national parks left behind a legacy of an ecosystem that is not as healthy as it should be.
Dave Verhulst, fire communications officer for Banff National Park, said the prescribed burn program aims to re-establish diversity of the ecosystem and protect communities from a potential future wildfire.
“Fire is a natural and important part of the ecosystem and has been part of this place for as long as people have,” he told the Outlook before his presentation to Banff council Monday (Feb. 28).
“With fire suppression, we’ve closed in the forest and it has less biodiversity. We also have a situation that could be pretty dangerous for communities because a fire hasn’t come through in a long time.”
The 60-hectare Carrot Creek fire will be divided into two separate burns south of the Trans-Canada Highway and north of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Depending on a number of factors, such as weather, personnel availability and forest dryness, this fire could happen mid-April to mid-May, or after the September long weekend.
One of the main aims of the fire is to protect neighbouring communities from the threat of a potential future wildlife in the valley. It also aims to stimulate growth of dormant grass, shrubs and aspen.
In many areas, Verhulst said, suppression of fires over the past century has led to an unnatural build-up of dead trees and plants in the forests.
“Prescribed burns allow us to break up the forest fuels so that places are not only better ecologically, but they’re also safer for communities,” he said.
The Dormer Creek prescribed fire is a 3,800-hectare fire along the headwaters of the Dormer River, 45 kilometres north of the Banff townsite within the eastern slopes of the national park.
“Dormer is really about improving the habitat for bighorn sheep,” said Verhulst.
The Red Deer River prescribed fire is part of a 4,800-hectare area along the Red Deer River, adjoining the eastern boundary of Banff National Park, 20kms west of the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.
The aim is to use fire to restore habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife, as well as to prevent the threat of a runaway fire from moving onto provincial lands.
This fire could go any time from spring, summer or fall.
Funds for all 2011 prescribed burns are managed on a mountain park wide basis. The total for Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay is $900,000 this year.
If you want advance notice of burning days, you can put yourself on Parks Canada’s notification list by calling 403-762-1447 or emailing email@example.com