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Logs piling up in Jasper

by Craig Gilbert |

Jasper trail master Loni Klettl remarked in one of her posts last year that the most common question from visitors was “why are the trees red?”

This year’s could be “why are they sideways on the ground?”

The townsite is today in the throes of the work fire chief Greg Van Tighem and others warned would be noticeable, as crews thin out stands along Pyramid Lake Road, Connaught Drive and Sleepy Hollow Road, stacking saleable logs by the road and burning brush as they go.

“The devastation caused by this recent pine beetle infestation is a very unfortunate reality, and it increases the potential fire and public safety risk in our community,” Van Tighem said last week. “The forest fuel reduction work around the townsite is a positive step to improve our community’s level of safety and preparedness.”

The forest is organized into fuel maintenance units. Plots behind Bonhomme Street west and west of the town site have been completed, a slender zone stretching along the bench from the ball fields to the Sawridge is being worked on now, as is the corridor along Sleepy Hollow Road. More work along the Discovery Trail and closer to the east entrance to town is planned.

The work is expected to continue for a number of weeks. Jasper National Park superintendent Alan Fehr said on March 6 that fellerbunchers have been brought into speed the work, which has opened up land next to the Sawridge Inn and along the Discovery Trail west of Hazel Avenue. He said mechanical clearing is a safer alternative to prescribed burns within the townsite.

“We’re certainly not at that point.”

Speaking at a Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday morning, Fehr said the “incredible” speed and ferocity at which 40 percent of Waterton National Park burned last summer was a good example of why the fire ban issued for JNP in July was necessary, and why the work to clear out fuel in and around the townsite must continue.

“There is a well established FireSmart program in Jasper,” he said. “A lot of the work began 10 or 12 years ago, and we continue to build on it, adding to it and maintaining some of the work already being done. It’s a big project we’re undertaking to protect Jasper and respond to the die-off.”

He said a contractor will be working in a 700-hectare area deeper in the forest from the townsite on the Pyramid bench, removing dead and dying trees, most affected by the mountain pine beetle.

“We want to have a natural looking but healthier forest that is easier to work with in case of fire.”

A Parks spokesperson said work on the Bench including near Cottonwood Slough would “create a much larger protected area to the west” of Jasper.

Work will begin as early as March 12 and continue until April 15, or as long as the ground remains frozen. The remainder of the project area will be completed between November 2018 and April 2019.

The Parks website will be updated with details about which section of the project area crews will begin work in and any trail closures.

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