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West Kelowna wants provincial funding for wildfire protection issue

While he calls a change in the province’s formula of wildfire protection funding “positive,” West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater is still looking for more protection on private lands.

Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson announced a shift in the cost-sharing system for operational fuel reduction treatments Wednesday. Effective Jan. 1, 2013, the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative will pay 90 per cent of the project cost, with an annual cap of $400,000 for municipalities and First Nations and a cap of $600,000 for regional districts.

The remaining 10 per cent can be an in-kind contribution, such as staff time, or a cash payment from the applicant. “You couldn’t count your staff time previously as your contribution. That was a real impediment to municipalities to put cash in rather than staff time…so this is positive,” said Findlater.

Previously, the initiative provided 90 per cent of the project funding up to $100,000, then 75 per cent of the remaining cost up to a maximum of $400,000 per year.

Operational fuel reduction treatments can include removing dead trees, increasing the spacing between live trees, trimming back low-hanging tree branches and removing or burning off vegetation and wood debris that could field a wildfire.

“This change in the funding formula should encourage more municipalities, regional districts and First Nations to develop community wildfire protection plans and undertake fuel management projects to help protect their communities from wildfire,” said Thomson.

Findlater said the revised formula will be helpful for West Kelowna, but it still doesn’t address the district’s top concern of dealing with forest fire interface on private property.

West Kelowna council successfully passed a resolution seeking a province-wide wildfire protection program for both public and private lands at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention last September.

“Most of the (fuel interface) areas in and around West Kelowna that are problematic are on private property,” said Findlater. “We were looking in the resolution either for funding to do (fuel reduction on) private land or a legislative piece to allow for enforcement on private land.”

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