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Regional district sets course to navigate through new wildfire risk reduction waters

Although local government no longer has any authority over which treatment area is selected or how the treatment is completed, it can influence where the treatments occur — Creative Commons.

The squeaky wheel will get the grease when it comes to wildfire risk reduction.

Although local government no longer has any authority over which treatment area is selected or how the treatment is completed, it can influence where the treatments occur, according to a recent report on the provincial Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction (CLWRR) program.

Through focusing on communities that have identified reducing their risk to wildfire as a top priority, the organization and facilitation of meetings is up to the local government — with funding offered through the Community Resiliency Investment Program (CRI) — noted Angela French, wildfire mitigation supervisor for the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) in her report.

“Through recent discussions with the B.C. Wildfire Service and Ministry of Forests we now understand where local government is intended to fit in the program: to promote community involvement in FireSmart activities; and coordinate regional and sub-regional planning tables to discuss possible treatments for that given area,” she said.

The shifting of authority from the local to the provincial level is a new thing. For almost 20 years the regional district has been the point in identifying, prescribing and implementing wildfire fuel treatment projects “that balanced the priority of reducing risk to wildfires with the values offered by a functioning forest.”

French pointed to the Selous Creek project north of Nelson as an example.

“(It) included selective harvesting to maintain a functioning forest, encouraging stand conversion to species resilient to the impacts of climate change and the preservation of recreational assets including mountain bike and walking/hiking trails all while reducing the risk of a severe wildfire burning uncontrolled next to communities,” she said.

The project has been characterized as “largely successful” due to a partnership which included the RDCK, Kalesnikoff Lumber Co. Ltd., the City of Nelson, B.C. Wildfire and local experts. French said there has also been a commitment to “engage with the public and incorporate their feedback into the plan.”

Three years ago the province created CLWRR that brought wildfire fuel mitigation into the hands of forestry licensees through existing harvesting licenses. At the time the regional district voiced a concern over the change and the absence of community engagement.

An RD with a plan

• Crown land wildfire risk reduction program

To leverage this program the RDCK must identify communities that are ready and willing to support licensee-led wildfire fuel mitigation projects in their area and share this information with the provincial program.

“FireSmart programming is the first step in identifying these communities, and roundtables are the location where the RDCK can discuss possibilities with the province and stakeholders,” said French in her report.

The Wildfire Mitigation Program will be hosting these meetings through 2022 and onward.

Source: June 16 board report

Modernization of forestry

The regional district needs to support the modernization of forestry by hiring companies that have adapted their practices to the changing climate and provided the appropriate equipment and skilled labour required to accomplish fuel treatments adjacent to communities, French wrote in her report.

“Using smaller, more nimble, less compacting machinery is essential to create partial cut, shaded fuel breaks in many communities,” she said. “Winch-assist machine capabilities are vital to allow for mechanized preparation for prescribed broadcast burns on steep, previously inoperable terrain. The RDCK should be pursuing the opportunity to work with these contractors to support their innovation and continued viability.”

The regional district also needs to endorse adaptations in forest policy, including the replacement of forest sector developed Forest Stewardship Plans (FSP) with Forest Landscape Plans (FLP) and the alignment with Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), French wrote.

“The new FLP framework will increase local control of the forests to better address local scale ecological and cultural values in addition to timber values,” she explained.

Source: June 16 board report