Compliments of Yvan Kathriner, RPF | Nupqu Development Corporation [excerpts from Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP Updated 2016]

Akisqnuk FN

The Akisqnuk First Nation community is located on the east side of Lake Windermere between the communities of Windermere and Fairmont Hot Springs. The community is transected by Highway 93/95, which runs north to south. Large parcels of private land are found to the north and east of the community. Most of Akisqnuk community is located within a Douglas-fir forested ecosystem with many grassland openings. Exceptions to these ecosystems are found in the southwest portion adjacent to the Columbia River where a riparian flood plain ecosystem exists. Most of the community is located on a large silt bench above the lake with many gullies and ravines created by creeks, springs, and runoff. The area adjacent to the community is made up of a mosaic of provincial crown, private and municipal land (Watson, 2009).

Most of the Akisqnuk reserve is located in the Very Dry, Cold Interior Douglas-fir subzone (IDFxk) biogeoclimatic zone (historically called IDFun). Typical sites have grasslands of Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) and Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) with scattered Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). However, forest ingrowth has created stands similar to those at higher elevations. The highest elevations (above 900m) within the Area of Interest (AOI) are located in the Kootenay Dry Mild Interior Douglas-fir (IDFdm2) biogeoclimatic zone. Typical sites have open stands of Douglas-fir. Dominant understory species include Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Junegrass, and Common Juniper (Juniperus communis). On slightly wetter sites, Hybrid Spruce (Picea engelmannii x glauca) and deciduous species like Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), and Soopolallie (Shepherdia canadensis) can be found. These smaller, more productive sites accumulate fuel more quickly and see a less frequent fire return interval, meaning that if these stands ignited, the resulting wildfire could be more intense than the surrounding open forests. Much of the adjacent provincial crown land extends beyond the IDFxk. With this change in ecosystems, we see an increase in Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia).

Historically, these ecosystems classified as Natural Disturbance Type (NDT) 4, saw frequent stand-maintaining fires and rarely, stand-initiating crown fires. These fires were driven by periodic lightning caused fires and the historic use of prescribed fire by the Ktunaxa. These low intensity fires usually resulted in the consumption of woody surface fuels and revitalized the grass and shrub communities. They also thinned younger stands and increased the height to live crown (Watson, 2009). This fire- driven ecosystem has strayed from its historical composition. A century of fire suppression has altered the fire regime of the Rocky Mountain Trench and the effects of this are evident on Akisqnuk Lands. Stands with high stem densities, high fuel loading, and grassland encroachment are now common. Details on the resulting fire fuel types can be found in Watson, Akisqnuk CWPP (2009).

The community is fortunate to have never had a major fire event that threatened lives or property. Many community members have had fires in and around their property, either to burn yard waste or garbage or for recreational fires. In the past, some of these fires developed and had to be responded to. The level of risk that wildfire poses to the community varies from very low to extreme across the AOI. The Wildfire History map indicates areas impacted by wildfire in the past 30 years.

Weather makes up another side of the "fire behaviour triangle" (see Figure 6) and has a significant impact on wildfires – in how they start, how aggressively they spread, and how long they burn. The Rocky Mountain Trench lies in a rain shadow created by the Columbia Mountains. Cold continental arctic air masses are common during the winter. In summer, hot, dry air from the Great Basin comes up into the Trench, reducing the precipitation amount. Most precipitation falls as snow between November and January and as rain in May and June (Iverson, 2014). The BC Wildfire Service uses weather stations that transmit temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, wind speed, and wind direction every hour from April to October (Government of BC, 2016). This data is used to predict the fire danger class.

 Compliments of Akisqnuk First Nation: