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Canadian tribe turns to controlled burning to protects forest, animals

June 20, 2013 at 5:13 PM   |   Comments

VICTORIA, British Columbia, June 20 (UPI) -- A Canadian First Nation band says it's reviving an age-old practice of controlled burning to improve forest health and restore a population of wood bison.

The controlled burning of forests gets rid of deadwood and stimulates growth of more desirable vegetation, Sonja Levarkus, an ecologist working with the Fort Nelson First Nation, said. It could have the added benefit of saving wood bison in British Columbia, where they were almost wiped out by hunting in the early 1900s.

A surviving heard of about 200 animals was discovered in Alberta in 1957 and a small group was released deep in British Columbia forests, but the threatened species has strayed from its home range and now grazes alongside the Alaska Highway, where the bison has become a hazard for motorists and dozens of the animal die annually in vehicle accidents, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News reported.

Ecologists say they hope controlled burning of forests will produce a more open landscape and will entice the wood bison back to their home range.

Lana Lowe, director of lands for the Fort Nelson First Nation, says controlled burning has deep roots in the community and was second nature to her grandfather.

"He did it because the land needs to be taken care of, and that's part of taking care of the land, making sure that all this old scrub ... isn't there, tripping up animals and choking out the medicine and food plants that come up for us."

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