Forest fire prevention and mitigation in BC: At what point does inaction become negligence?

“There were at least 21 fires that started in British Columbia on Sunday. There were 36 Saturday. There were 32 Friday. There are 178 burning right now.

A haze blankets the majority of people in B.C., as winds bring smoke from fires in Pemberton to people in Vancouver and Victoria. The Metro Vancouver Air Quality Health Index went to 10+, or “Very High Risk” on Sunday night.

READ MORE: Air quality advisory issued for Metro Vancouver and Sunshine Coast

And undoubtedly, there will be more fires to come in the days and weeks ahead…”

Source: http://globalnews.ca/news/2092023/fires-raging-across-b-c-as-concern-for-the-summer-deepens/

Our forests, our lives

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The vast and varied forests of British Columbia, are without question one of our greatest resources. In its heyday, the forest industry in our province provided a revenue source that sustained entire communities through logging, sawmills and pulpmills. In fact most of my family and friends up north have worked in the forestry industry via one or another of these sectors.

beetlekill

The impact of the massive pine beetle kill was sizable,but once most of the salvaged ( and marketable) wood was harvested, sawmills began to close in many areas. It was also discovered back in 2012 that our forests had been badly mismanaged – the Forest Practices Board concurred with forester Anthony Britneff’s assessment that cut forests had not been satisfactorily restocked via tree-planting. What do these two things have in connection?

It takes a long time to re-grow a logged area to a size that can be harvested again -and this didn’t take into account the often unchecked logging that takes place on privately owned land. Between the vast amounts of beetle kill in BC and the failure to replant trees to a level and standard we needed to, every single remaining forest in our province becomes that much more valuable/

The need for protection of our forests for either wood harvest or simply as a wild habitat for our animals, becomes clear.

The amazing stands of douglas fir  and majestic ceders or redwoods are magnets for those who call nature their church,who find solace and reverence in forests thick and tall. Those trees provide much needed stability along lakes and streams, preventing run-off that makes clear water silty, clogging gills of fish and aquatic wildlife.The need for conservation, is clear.

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Wildfire prevention and mitigation

Every time a forest fire is ignited, at best we lose valuable forest, at worst, we lose homes, and at times, lives. The costs to both communities and the province, is often staggering. So it makes sense that in a province with vast tracts of forest that in many areas merge with homes and communities, prevention efforts and mitigation is absolutely essential.

For more than a decade, the location and methods used to build forest communities was a massive concern- ” How BC was built to burn” ran in the Tyee in 2004, identifying major issues and safety concerns of many BC communities like Barriere and Whistler. http://thetyee.ca/News/2004/04/30/How_BC_Was_Built_to_Burn/

Of great interest in this article, is the Filmon Firestorm Report of 2003. I’ve linked to it separately here, because the link in the Tyee article is no longer working. http://bcwildfire.ca/History/ReportsandReviews/2003/FirestormReport.pdf

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/270710127/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&show_recommendations=true“>

Pages 69 through 76 contain 41 recommendations based on his findings -some the province was advised to implement immediately, some would take time, but all were to be treated with urgency. While I can determine fire departments acted on the recommendations under their jurisdictions, I cannot determine if the province has completed their response.

His final thoughts included the following:

We believe that governments have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to implement risk reduction policies and legislation while the devastation of Firestorm 2003 is fresh in the public’s mind and the costs and consequences of various choices are well understood.

Another area of clear consensus was that concentration of resources and effort on issues that anticipate, prevent and prepare for disasters is a better investment than on expenditures made in coping with disasters. Consequently, we have made many recommendations to invest in preparedness, education and training.

There was also a firm recognition that many subdivisions in the interface were not designed to mitigate wildfire risks, nor were the dwellings constructed to reduce wildfire hazards.

We believe that local governments and individual homeowners have recognized the risks and are now prepared to follow the best information available to correct for past inaction. We believe they will accept strong direction and leadership on this issue.

The topic of fuel load reduction through prescribed burns is perhaps the best example of a strong consensus on what formerly had been a very controversial and divisive debate. Simply put, almost everyone who gave advice to the Review Team agreed that it was better to accept short-term inconvenience and irritation in favour of long-term reduction in hazard and cost.

Filmon was correct. We have had a trend of hotter,longer dryer fire seasons.  And with some predicting the current drought like conditions will continue through the next winter and into 2016, it’s reason for immediate review to see how many of these recommendations were implemented with urgency as Filmon dictated.

What’s happened since the report was issued? 

Despite this report, concerns were raised yet again in 2011 on what it would take to keep BC forest communities safe. http://www.policynote.ca/on-the-forest-fire-front-line-one-ecologists-take-on-what-it-will-take-to-safeguard-communities/

And sadly, just last week Robert Gray revealed a startling fact in this Times Columnist column: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/columnists/robert-w-gray-wildfires-cost-far-more-than-we-think-1.1988299

Knowing that wildfires have an even greater economic impact on annual provincial and local government budgets than originally estimated should compel the province to invest more in proactive wildfire-hazard mitigation. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

In 2014, the province didn’t invest any money in wildfire-hazard mitigation through investment in the Union of B.C. Municipalities Strategic Wildfire Prevention Program Initiative. It did, however, invest over $70 million in flood mitigation.

Since 2002, the province has invested over $2 billion in earthquake mitigation. In the 11 years since the 2003 fire season and the release of the Filmon Report, the province has invested only $100 million in wildfire-hazard mitigation, yet the cost of suppression alone over that same period has been $2.2 billion. Investments in hazard mitigation are only a fraction of the total amount being spent on fighting fires plus the damage caused by those fires — a pattern that runs counter to sensible cost-benefit risk-management practices.

It’s true no one can point a finger at any politician for this weather, or the drought we are experiencing. Nor can you lay blame for the rampant stupidity that leads to so many fire starts across the province.

But when reports commissioned by the government, make recommendation to the government to prevent similar situations in the future-a dire warning by any standard of commensense- are not fully implemented or funded, who takes the responsibility?

fuelreduction

Who is in charge of legislating forest policy, forest management, removing fuel loads that feed fires?  The province of BC is.

In April of 2014, a full decade after the Filmon report was commissioned, Glen Sanders- a former firefighter and fire chief, took a look at the lessons learned- or not- by government and found the results lacking. http://www.abcfp.ca/publications_forms/documents/BCFORPRO-2014-2_Sanders.pdf

“I am dubious about the lessons learned by government, however, and many of the missteps identified in the Filmon Report will be repeated when the next firestorm strikes.

A wise person once said, “The worst mistake a person can make is to think that those in charge actually know what they are doing.” 

In a recent post, I reflected on how hindsight is only 20/20 if one applies the lessons learned to future actions and decisions. 

And if fire and forestry experts are concerned, I’m also concerned the government did not learn an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Did the government ensure every single one of the recommendations they were responsible for completing in Filmons report were undertaken? I don’t have that answer yet.

I hope we don’t have to wait for yet another firestorm report, to find out.

* For up-to date positions and details of reported wild fires in British Columbia, see this link: http://bcwildfire.ca/situation/

* Air quality reports/advisories can be found here: http://www.bcairquality.ca/index.html

In an update to this post that received thousands of views in the last few days, Coulson has reportedly signed a new contract with the province of BC.

The Mars Bombers will be back in service as early as Thursday.  http://www.albernivalleynews.com/news/311789601.html

And further to this, the contract will be under and existing helicopter contract with Coulson. http://www.albernivalleynews.com/news/311838091.html

( Some media outlets reporting the ministry is still in talks- check your local news to see what develops)

38 thoughts on “Forest fire prevention and mitigation in BC: At what point does inaction become negligence?

    1. Laila

      Can the Forests Minister now provide a list of communities at risk for wildfires? http://www.revelstokecurrent.com/2009/09/28/five-years-after-the-filmon-report-forest-minister-still-unable-to-provide-a-list-of-bc-communities-that-are-considered-%E2%80%98at-risk%E2%80%99-for-wildfire/

      Fire departments have undertaken changes and recommendations from the Filmon report, but has the province? As of 2013, fuel reduction and management still lacking http://www.kamloopsnews.ca/news/city-region/i-went-through-hell-1.1238069

      March of this year,2015- province did not fund many cities fuel reduction and management. No grants given.Province chronically underfunding mitigation efforts at fuel reduction,which is preventative in nature.

      This is appalling. Hindsight? Should have funded these efforts. http://www.news1130.com/2015/03/09/unusually-warm-winter-causing-concern-about-upcoming-wildfire-season/

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Scotty on Denman

    We can’t see the Big Island today—and it’s only a mile away! Strange sensation feeling, but barely seeing, the sun.

    Most of the lodgepole pine that was killed by the mountain pine beetle was not harvested; probably less than a couple percent of it ever will be because it’s so vast, and because the species nobody wanted alive is even more worthless dead.

    The mills have shut down because of raw log export.

    The beetle attacks lodgepole pine that’s 60 to 70 years old. Pine is totally intolerant of shade, so stands are all single-aged, meaning when one tree is 65 years old, all its neighbours are the same age too—and that’s a big smorgasbord for beetles, whose numbers climb exponentially.

    Other factors: we did such a good job in the past of suppressing wildfire, vast areas of pine reached the susceptible 60-to-70 year-old age all at once; as the climate warms, the super cold snaps that used to kill overwintering beetles and larva have failed to materialize, compounding the situation. Finally, lodgepole pine is one of the least commercially desirable species, its neglect being compounded by the spruce bark beetle outbreak of the 80s, salvage operations of this more valuable species preoccupying harvesting capacity (note that spruce IS shade tolerant—stands have every age instead of only one age— so the dynamics are totally different than with pine).

    A few years back, Christy wanted to “open up” parks and protected areas to logging to “compensate” loggers for timber “lost” to the pine beetle— totally spurious reasoning because, first of all, the pine didn’t belong to the loggers, so they couldn’t “lose” it, and, second, they didn’t want it anyway. The BC Liberals were trying to pull a fast one because they had their eye on more valuable species in these protected areas, and, of course, the Truck Loggers Association has convinced Christy they are the end-all and be-all of forestry—she might have never known there used to be mill towns.

    Where’s the Martin Mars bomber? Sitting in Sproat Lake because it doesn’t have a contract in place. BC Liberal neglect of the forest industry is as sure as climate change—we’re in for it now for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laila

      That beetle kill wood was a disaster.Even years ago they discovered it was going punky on the lots of the sawmill faster than they thought it would… the disaster of having a much finer dust than regular harvest…

      I’ll never forget years ago when on a trip back home, heading up to Babine lake where my grandfathers ashes were spread. The first time on the drive there we topped a hill on the highway and as far as I could see in nearly every direction, dead trees. Everywhere. I actually got choked up seeing it,it had that much impact on me because the last time I had seen those hills they were green and vibrant.

      My first thought then was God help us if a fire starts.

      Even without the pine kill, in many areas controlled burns and fuel reduction by grubbing isn’t taking place due to lack of funds. Those initiatives can make all the difference in some fires.

      The mars bomber debacle today with so many conflicting reports: contract signed, contract not signed, 30 day offer rejected, in talks only, and now the story that the contract will be called up under the existing heli contract with Coulson, is unreal. Someone jumped the gun and talked too soon I think.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Scotty on Denman

        A disaster for sure. We used to map out spruce beetle infestation for treatment, even going so far as to fall and burn individual trees (because spruce of susceptible age are often scattered in distribution)—back in the 80s; first noticed the pine beetle back then at the southern limit of lodgepole—and wondering what it meant that it was attacking yellow pine too, but hardly imagining how far the devastation would eventually go because we still had cold winters. It’s truly incredible, especially from the air. Milling dead, dry pine was another disaster hardly imagined, but which became real and tragic.

        Seeing is believing, but it stills seems incredible how low the forest industry has been laid. The climate naturally can’t be blamed on political partisanship—that’s what BC Liberals have tried to suggest of their rival. Yet the deterioration of the industry since the BC Liberals took over is impossible to deny, and the correlation to their regressive policies is pretty damning, climate aside, especially following Harcourt’s Forest Practices Code, the most progressive overhaul since Sloan half a century ago: the BC Liberals have undercut that progress incrementally, but relentlessly. Forest companies are profitable again now they’ve shed their milling capacities—and whole towns have been sacrificed. Forest inventory is a shambles and the whole thing is a shame. You have to invent a new word to accurately describe this willful mismanagement: “dys-management” is all I can think of, and that’s really a giant breach of public trust. The water-bomber situation is just another example.

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  2. It’s no surprise that I, too, blame everything on the nincompoops, even forest fires! Hell, I blame them all for the drought as well. But, let’s face it; they drop the ball every time it is handed to them. They can’t get ANYTHING right. How is it that we expect otherwise? Why do we hand them the ball at all? Why are they even on the team? Bottom line – our ‘leaders’ are not leaders. They are followers at best, pigs at the trough mostly. We really have to do better than this – and quickly – or else we’ll all go up in smoke.

    Like

  3. Jay Jones

    If all political/business leadership groups could function at a world-class level, the entire world wouldn’t have stopped 3 decades ago to give BC a standing ovation for going from great to world-class, pretty much overnight.

    Like

  4. Curt

    Talked to a friend last night. Had guys waiting to go out to fight fires. Were supposed to go out Saturday, didn’t happen. Fire up in the Kootenays, these guys sitting idle waiting for the call, sitting right there pretty well next to the fire, minutes away. Government says bringing in people from out of province and other areas of the province to fight this one. Sending the guys in the Kootenays up north. They left Monday morning, Fort Nelson I believe. Meantime, the fire continues to burn. Good planning and good way to spend tax dollars? Really.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. cheryl

    And a comment from my Mom while we wait with bated breath for the return of Premier Bubbles: “It might have demonstrated a modicum of class (for Christy) to visit some of the firefighters off shift, maybe see the bereaved family, maybe just be seen and heard taking a leadership role when her province is on fire.” Instead she has a staffer tweet a stupid message and a communications person issue a press release while she remains on vacation…….sad…..

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    1. Laila

      I fully understand the desire to have quality time with ones family- politicians are not exempt. However,most leaders will take time for extraordinary events and the province is experiencing one with the ongoing fires and resulting smoke issues. In Saskatchewan, leaders are on the ground running,in touch with many different agencies at different levels. People expect those concessions to be made by their leaders. And it’s the right thing to do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. e.a.f.

        When you sign on to be a premier, P.M., M.L.A., Mayor, etc. you sign on full time. When a crisis hits there is no vacation. I don’t care how important that family time is, it can come later. the job of leader of a province, city, etc. comes first especially in the time of a crisis. I didn’t see Brad Wall taking “family” time. when Calgary was hit by floods did we see that single mom premier take “family time” NO. did we see the Calgary mayor take family time? No. The Mayor of Calgary and Premiers of Alberta and Sask. were out and about doing their jobs. Of course it might be best if Christy stayed hidden, she really is so incompetent, she might have wanted to have a yoga retreat in for the forest.

        Its just interesting that Brad Wall is out “working” and has the Armed Forces working on the fire lines and we’re still waiting for a Mars bomber to get to work. You’d think the province had enough warning but I guess her “photoopness” was busy. I’d just like to know with what. its my tax dollars which pay her salary and she hasn’t done much to earn the money to date.

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    2. Stan Mortensen

      Probably won’t hear from her until the leg sits and she has what she thinks is a “good news” story, you know like, oh right, the yoga thing blew up, the Translink vote was a disaster…gosh there’s gotta be photo op something or other to take our minds off that haze we are seeing every day around the province…wait I got, LNG, hmm maybe not.

      Like

  6. e.a.f.

    while the province burns her “photoopness” must be drinking wine some where along with the rest of the politicians. it might be summer vacation time but how many others, who are paid a lot less get called in to work in an emergency. Her “photoopeness” doesn’t know what an emergency is, well perhaps when she can’t get into first class or her limo is late. in the meantime Sask. seems to be dealing with the fires a lot better than B.C. is.

    And then of course just to give the province some more “advertising” they suspend a conservation officer for doing his job, saving 2 bear cubs and getting suspended with out pay. If killing bears is the provincial government’s idea of “conservation” no wonder the province is burning. The B.C. Lieberals probably think is conservation. Christy will probably be saying now that the fires have burnt the forest she doesn’t have to think about poor logging practises.

    The air quality over on Vancouver Island is terrible. Must be a great ad for the tourist industry. You don’t even have to go camping to smell the “camp fire”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, like all legislated ‘names’, the opposite is true. Conservation officers generally kill animals. They have other duties, of course, but shooting cougars and bears is part of their job. Wolves, too. And so wrong so many times. It was a good thing what this guy did and he is corrageous in the extreme because of the ‘attitude’ of his bosses and all because he wanted to ‘do the right thing’. Sad.

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  7. Curt

    Going up to Pemberton later. Where you been Christy, or as above puts it, Miss Photoopness. Time for another picture of her highness telling the people what a great job her and her government are doing. I’m sure she has a reason. (or excuse).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. put me out of my misery

    Laila, this Government’s self-serving priorities never fail to amaze me.

    FYI: Here’s a story that has flown under the radar of most British Columbians: One of BC’s most unique Provincial Parks, rich in aesthetics and environmental values, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, is under threat: Government operatives are rather quietly and hyper-diligently, beavering away to facilitate “safety upgrades” to a pleasant dirt road travelled by walkers, equestrians, cyclists and vehicular traffic. It is proposed that this little country lane be widened to “highway” standards with an allowance to enable future? services to be accommodated.

    Cosens Bay developers must be salivating at the thought of enhanced access and services to the seasonal McMansions, holding and family properties at Cosens Bay.

    Please note the local/inside knowledge contained within the comments on this petition:

    https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-transportation-and-infrastructure-withdraw-the-proposal-to-remove-land-from-kalamalka-lake-provincial-park?utm_campaign=petition_created&utm_medium=email&utm_source=guides

    Like

  9. Why is Bill Bennet championing the cause of the Mt. Polley mine company? How can they be re-opening in less than a year? DFO and the ministry had to ‘investigate’ and ‘research’ and blah, blah, blah and one of BC’s biggest polluters is back in business in less than ten months? How is that possible? People all over this province are on fire alert and water rationing and this dickhead uses his office and prioritizes his time to champion our worst polluter to go back at it? Is he mad?

    Like

    1. Wikipedia: The controlling shareholder of Imperial Metals is billionaire N. Murray Edwards. He donated half a million dollars in campaign contributions to the B.C. Liberal party since 2005 and helped organize a $1-million fundraiser for B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s re-election.

      Like

    2. e.a.f.

      Is he mad? Hard to say but I’d sure like a shrink to examine him. He does, in my opinion, look a little wacked out, not to mention like an advertising manikin.
      In my opinion some of these B.C. Lieberal politicians don’t look like politicians, they look like advertising agencies for corporations and corporate best friends with any corporation looking for a hand out. I don’t know if they are looking for political contributions for the next election, looking for new jobs after the next election, or just don’t know how to behave in public.

      Like

    1. e.a.f.

      Water, the new most expensive commodity this century. However, B.C. politicians still haven’t gotten with the agenda. They could be making more money out of that water than any oil or gas plant they “give away” to corporations.

      All of this water belongs to the people of B.C. and ought to be kept in the ground for future generations, but unfortunately B.C. politicians can’t see to the end of the news cycle.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Laila

      Good morning! Yes, I was on the air this morning at about 7:40 to talk about the summer legislative session and the Petronas LNG bill the government will be debating this week.Did you listen?

      Like

  10. Pingback: ” And now class, let’s all just cover our ears & pretend that BC doesn’t ship mile long trains full of US thermal coal overseas!” – Laila Yuile on people, politics and life in B.C.

  11. Pingback: Only 80,000 hectares out of 685,000 high risk wildfire forest areas treated since 2004 – Laila Yuile on people, politics and life in B.C.

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