Since the wildfires of 2017 & 2018, many BC communities have taken it upon themselves, without provincial assistance, to begin developing strategies for the prevention of wildfires and floods through landscape management programs, and wildfire interface initiatives. This process has included expensive feasibility studies* and stakeholder sessions** to gather facts and options for the communities based on their own unique landscapes. While noble in concept, this approach where BC communities work in silos to address their very real dangers risks becoming counterproductive without provincial support and collaboration.

The lack of guidance and leadership from the provincial government on wildfire prevention strategies has led communities to take their own steps to address the issues, while asking the province to provide financial support to ensure sustainability of the programs.

Background

Different landscapes around the province will require different approaches, however, the province should be coordinating these approaches to ensure proper collaboration and sustainability. Many communities currently looking to implement wildfire interface strategies, can only do so with proper provincial and or federal support. Such support is currently not clearly identified or earmarked in the provincial budget.

Many thousands of dollars are being spent at the municipal level to gain a better understanding of what communities can do to mitigate the risk of wildfire. Many of the ideas coming out of these studies are similar in nature and would benefit from a holistic provincial approach to ensure long term sustainability and provide access to rural and remote communities that do not have the resources to develop their own strategies.

Examples of Studies in Development

The City of Cranbrook commissioned a feasibility study in January 2018 asking for the province to use them as a “pilot project” based on their study to do an intensive fiber recovery from wildlands and create a 48,000ha full interface buffer around the community of Cranbrook.

In their study, Cranbrook cites the economic impact of an evacuation of the City of Cranbrook over a single day to be estimated at $13,174,432 vs three days at an overwhelming $51,205,040. The study goes on to state the cost of preventative treatment at a rate of approx. $28,144,661, with additional options for cost recovery laid out based on how the province choses to deal with post harvest fuels.

Cranbrook Proposition to the Province was:

  • Cranbrook as a pilot project with industry and government;
  • Recover the fibre to develop a biomass industry;
  • Build a small pellet/torrified pellet plant 10-30 k tonnes a year;
  • Liquid biofuels;
  • Co-gen plant would power our spray irrigation and water treatment plant; and
  • Possible district heating project.

Outcomes and Potential Benefits:

  • Fire safety for the community;
  • Economic viability;
  • Economic sustainability;
  • Province enjoys positive economic impact (corporate and personal income tax, sales tax)
  • City enjoys revitalization of the local forest industry; and
  • Province, City and Industry seen as progressive, collaborative leaders.

What is needed from the Province:

  • Waive stumpage on non-merchantable timber (status quo-zero revenue as is);
  • Change the logging practices and rules as the project moves forward as a template for treating Wildfire interface areas in all areas around the province;
  • Remove the wildfire interface from the timber harvesting land-base so it doesn’t affect the AAC Licensees; and
  • Work with the city to support start-up operations

The Cranbrook study was just one approach identified by a community which has seen the risk of wildfire on its doorstep with wildfires raging in the area as recent as 2018. 

Another community looking into options for wildfire prevention measures is the City of Quesnel. Currently in the process of doing stakeholder engagement around the province, the leaders of this study are approaching their proposed project with a focus on “Managing for Landscape-scale Ecological Resilience” with the hope of showing ways to manage our forests more holistically, and with a lens for the long-term health of our lands, our resources and our communities.

“The Quesnel project aims to address landscape level problems with appropriately scaled ecological resilience models. Rather than dealing with a regional problem at the forest stand level, they aim to manage the land at the same scale that the problem exists. This means more coordination of information, and cooperation of First Nations, Local and Regional Governments, Provincial Ministries and Industry.”

While both studies hold great merit and are similar in nature of their ask of different levels of government involvement through funding and collaboration, the key to the success of either one is the financial support, collaboration and management at a provincial level. Because there is no part of the province that is untouched by the effects or risks of wildfire, it would make sense that the province leads the development of a comprehensive approach to wildfire prevention for the entire province, while considering the various forest types in each region.

The Chamber Recommends

That the Provincial Government:

  1. Select a community in each tourism region to run a “pilot program” for new fire interface practices and then track and communicate the approach, costs and results; and
  2. Develop a comprehensive approach considering the results of the pilot program, to create a long-term action plan to move towards disaster prevention, including strategic flood mitigation, and interface wildfire prevention.