Editorial: Smoke-free breathing

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One thing Salt Spring Islanders have oodles of right now is tree branches and other woody debris, following the Dec. 20 windstorm.

While it may be tempting to get rid of every last taunting twig and fir cone as soon as possible by burning them, experts in air quality and environmental issues are advising residents to curb the urge to burn.

People without respiratory-related health concerns may not have noticed, but one day last week an air quality advisory was issued by Island Health and the B.C. environment ministry in the nearby Cowichan Valley. It resulted from a combination of excessive outdoor burning taking place and weather that resulted in a poor “ventilation index” rating. For those with compromised breathing, an official notice was not required. The discomfort was obvious.

While ventilation index considerations apply only to “machine piles” in the Salt Spring Fire Department’s burning bylaws, every property owner who is planning to burn brush outside should ensure they have a burning permit and comply with Open Burning Bylaw 125 regulations. Brush piles are restricted in size and by a number of other factors. To be considerate to their neighbours, people should only burn on days with a “good” ventilation index. The Salt Spring Fire Department website contains up-to-date index information.

But immediate burning does not always have to be only option for dealing with tree debris. A group of islanders with both fire protection and conservation interests has put together some suggestions in our guest column space on page 7 this week, which may be suitable depending on one’s property layout and size.

They range from chipping the wood to building berms, making hügelkultur beds, and biochar. The latter is a workshop topic at Seedy Saturday, which is coming up on Feb. 9. If burning seems to be the only option, the group recommends drying the branches for 30 days and having a small, hot fire of the drier material.

As our population grows and we learn more about the health and environmental impacts of open burning, it makes sense to do as much as possible to minimize contributing to smoky skies.

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