Fires, forests high on local government agenda

Municipal politicians look for more provincial support to remove forest fuel from interface areas, including private land

As mayors and councillors from across the province prepare to gather in Vancouver for their annual September convention and meetings with the B.C. cabinet, the state of B.C. forests and the threat of fires is top of mind.

A resolution up for debate from Premier Christy Clark’s constituency of West Kelowna calls on the province to take the lead on forest fuel management, directly funding and managing it for private as well as public land. It notes that despite high costs and widespread damage from the 2014 forest fire season, the province’s Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative excluded operational activities and was restricted to financing community protection plans.

The program spent $62 million between 2004 and 2014 to assist local governments reduce interface fire risk. Applications for fuel projects were halted last year when the budget was spent, and this spring the forests ministry put another $5 million in, for projects on municipal or provincial land only.

The province maintains that fuel projects on private land are best left to local governments to coordinate with their public land programs.

In the wake of beetle losses and reduced timber harvest limits, Williams Lake, Quesnel, 100 Mile House and Wells are calling for the province to improve certainty on the working forest land base. Their resolution calls for the province to “deliver the full allowable cut allowed under the BC Timber Sales program” and “complete a science-based inventory of available timber supply.”

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said in an interview the province’s $80 million increase in inventory funding over 10 years has been focused on areas hardest hit by pine beetle infestation.

“I’m confident that we have significantly improved information that is going into the timber supply reviews and timber supply analysis,” Thomson said.

Log exports is a perennial issue of concern to coastal communities. The latest resolution from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District notes that log exports increased 65 per cent between 2010 and 2013, with 90 per cent of exports from the B.C. coast.

Their resolution calls for a review of log export policy, which requires logs for export to be advertised so local mills have the option of bidding before export is approved.

Hundreds of mayors, councillors and regional district directors will converge on downtown Vancouver for the UBCM convention Sept. 21-25.

 

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