Smithers wants province to play larger role in wildfire protection planning

Smithers wants province to play larger role in wildfire protection planning

Communities will voice their concerns at next month’s Union BC conference.

Smithers council is calling on the province to increase the effectiveness of wildfire protection planning on crown lands and around communities.

Fire chief Keith Stecko addressed council on how communities such as Smithers are having to deal with the costs associated to provincial property.

“The community wildfire protection plan in itself has changed in its format over the past few years, essentially what has occurred is the area of study has increased, funding has decreased. The crux of the issue is many of the areas of high risk outside of the municipality. We use tax dollars to fund these programs, of which the municipality has no authority to correct these inefficiencies and threat areas that are being assessed. They fall largely on crown land, the government has the expertise and the ability to mitigate many of these threat assessments through various means available to them. The community wildfire plan program, in itself, no longer funds any type of operational mitigation,” he said.

Crown land is land or land covered by water, such as rivers or lakes, that is owned by the provincial or federal government. This type of land is available to the public for many different purposes – from industry to recreation and research.

“The province is now requiring communities to create plans and implement plans for a much larger area around the community … the boundary goes out well past Round Lake. It’s an example of what we feel is really a provincial jurisdiction being downloaded to communities without adequate resources to do the work in an effective way,” Bachrach stated. “They have a criteria around a certain density of buildings … they want you to create a plan to manage the interface in a two-kilometre radius around those building. If you look at the settlement pattern in the Bulkley Valley and the area that we would be responsible for as the Town of Smithers, it’s a huge vast area.”

Bachrach has written a letter to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Doug Donaldson and Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness Jennifer Rice on the issue.

The draft letter read in part: “We recommend the Province of B.C. increase effectiveness in resolving the wildfire risk in British Columbia by accelerating its involvement in the protection of our communities by planning for and carrying out fuel modification projects on Crown Lands located adjacent to communities. We encourage the province to prioritize interface fuel management planning and mitigation on wildland urban interface lands.”

“I think the timing is now to have this discussion with the province,” Stecko said.

Council will address their concerns at the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities Convention in September.