Only 80,000 hectares out of 685,000 high risk wildfire forest areas treated since 2004
If you live in a community in BC surrounded by forests, this might come of interest to you since it seems like we have an even earlier start to the wildfire season this year.
The premier is flying around talking about the wildfire season today and I’m not entirely sure if anyone will ask her if the province has acted on all of the recommendations from the Filmon firestorm report issued after the 2003 Kelowna firestorm report – this is the post I linked to in my last blogpost, asking at what point does inaction on the part of the province, become negligence? https://lailayuile.com/2015/07/06/at-what-point-does-inaction-become-negligence/
However, h/t to Tim today from twitter, who directed my attention to a little back and forth between Newton MLA Harry Bains and Forest Minister Steve Thomson in the legislature, talking about how many hectares identified as high risk in that report, have actually been treated since 2004.
Frankly, it’s shocking and in my opinion, incredibly shortsighted and dangerous. This is the link to the Hansard transcript from March,please scroll down to 1720 to read for yourself: https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/40th-parliament/5th-session/20160303pm-Hansard-v34n3#11059
H. Bains: The minister knows that this is a phony number. He knows that the average for the last ten years is $159 million. They just pick numbers from the air. It’s a political decision. We canvassed this during the last estimates, so I probably won’t go there more because of time.
My next question is…. The Filmon report in 2004, after the big Kelowna fire, identified 1.7 million hectares of land that required treatment to prevent a repeat of the wildfire catastrophe like we saw in Kelowna in 2003. How much of that took place in 2015? What is the estimate on how much of that will be done in 2016? So 1.7 million hectares were identified — the need to be fixed up. Out of that, 685,000 were considered high risk. Perhaps the minister can explain, in both of those areas, how many hectares actually have been worked on and the areas have been cleaned.
Hon. S. Thomson: Firstly, the number that the member referred to is not a phony number. We’ve been very transparent about the approach to how we manage the direct fire suppression — a number allocated in the budget and then statutory access to the dollars that are required to respond, depending on the season. There’s nothing phony. It’s fully transparent. We’ve explained the process.
I know that people don’t always understand why you would not put a whole bunch of money aside and strand that money for, potentially, other purposes when it may not be needed. But they also know that we have access to those statutory appropriations when we need it.
In terms of the interface program, we’ve invested over $78 million now, which has been provided to the strategic wildfire prevention initiative since 2004, to help communities and First Nations reduce wildfire risk. We’ve added $10 million to that this year.
We’ve also, in Budget 2016, provided 85 million in extra dollars, which will be, largely, directed to community wildfire protection on a broader landscape basis. The SWPI program will continue to focus on those high-risk areas in communities. It is a shared responsibility, working with local governments, working with homeowners, with private land owners and working with First Nations communities.
We’ve completed 288 wildfire protection plans by local governments and First Nations — another 50 in progress — and completed fuel treatments and wildfire risk reduction over 80,000 hectares in and around communities that face significant wildfire risk, those high-risk areas.
Additionally, the B.C. government and the UBCM municipalities also provided an additional $500,000 through a community grant program to encourage local communities in their FireSmart program and FireSmart principles.
Hon. S. Thomson: It’s important to recognize…. If you look back on the history of the Filmon report, when it came out, it was recognized at that time that this would be a long-term program, long-term response, requiring the cooperation of all the parties. The government has invested significant resources — as I said, $78 million into the program through the interface program and an additional $85 million largely directed toward that this year.
We will continue to work in partnership with the local governments and local communities in addressing those high-risk areas. If I look at communities…. For example, the community of West Kelowna and the community near where I live have taken very, very important opportunities in this program in their communities, but they’ve also made significant investments on their own in working with their local communities. I look at Logan Lake, which has received FireSmart designation and recognition.
Long-term investment — we continue to make significant investments. Again this year we have added significant dollars into the Forest Enhancement Society program to focus at the landscape level and at a broader level than the SWPI program — complementary work. Government will continue to invest in those opportunities, and we will continue to ensure that we have the dollars available to respond to the fire season as it comes to us every year, with that world-leading Wildfire Service that we have.
H. Bains: My question was: how many hectares — 80,000; is that correct? — have been treated, out of the 685,000 that were considered high risk? Are those the numbers?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes. Sorry, I thought I’d already provided that in my previous answer — 80,000 hectares.
H. Bains: So 80,000 out of 685,000, and we are talking about since 2004. You’re looking at 12 years to treat 8 percent — rough and dirty — of what was considered to be high risk by the Filmon report.
When you compare that to Alberta, with their big fire at Slave Lake, they committed $1 billion over ten years. They committed that. We are going year by year, and 12 years later, we’re still sitting at 8 percent. If you go at this rate, you’re looking at 100 years to fix this. I mean, that’s the reality.
Yes, you talked about long term, and I get that. But at this rate…. Especially, I’m talking about the 685,000 that are considered to be high risk, not 1.7 million. You’d probably take a couple centuries to do that, if you continue on with this pace. Clearly, the commitment isn’t there.
I think the communities should be worried, because we are talking about areas around those communities. Kelowna, all those surrounding communities went through that. The whole purpose of that report was so that we don’t go through that catastrophe again in any other community.
I think it is very, very dangerous for government to continue to ignore or do very little to fix the problem and treat the area that was considered high risk. Obviously, government isn’t taking that very seriously.
Bingo Harry. ” The whole purpose of that report was so that we don’t go through that catastrophe again in any other community. “
Filmon made it clear in his report that some of the review teams recommendations could be implemented immediately and others would take some time, but that all “should be implemented with as much urgency as possible.” (pg69 of the report)
Clearly though, when only 80,000 hectares out of 685,000 identified as high wildfire risk have been treated more than a decade after the report was issued, someone dropped the ball.
And what was Forest Minister Steve Thomsons parting comments to Bains on this situation the day this exchange took place?
” We’re maintaining a balanced budget — four balanced budgets in a row, a triple-A credit rating. We will continue, as our fiscal plan allows, to invest in these areas. It would cost $595 million to do all of those high-risk hectares. We will continue to provide the investments where we can. That’s why we’ve established the forest enhancement program in order to provide a vehicle to do that, to look where they can leverage additional resources to focus on that.”
What a load of bunk,Minister Thomson. It’s about priorities. The province forked over $560 million for a retractable roof for BC Place stadium since then.
Remember that while the province burns.