To reduce the wildfire risk to communities, Premier Christy Clark announced a top-up of $10 million to the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative and tasked the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to look at other ways to reduce wildfire risk through on-the-ground operations.
“We’re committed to improving the ecological health of our ravaged forests as well as working to ensure communities can benefit from the jobs they provide. I believe this new program will also meet objectives under our Forest Sector Competitiveness Strategy to provide a reliable and sustainable timber supply and stability for rural communities,” said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, in a press release.
The announcement brings the total amount provided to the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative since 2004 to $78 million. The program is intended to help local governments and First Nations significantly reduce wildfire risks around their communities, especially in interface areas where urban developments border on forests and grasslands. As of Sept. 1, 286 community wildfire protection plans have been completed and over 78,245 hectares of land in and around high-risk communities have been treated.
As well, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations will be developing the Forest Enhancement Program, to undertake salvage harvesting of dead timber, wildfire risk reduction and fuel management operations, and to enhance reforestation efforts and wildlife habitat restoration in stands severely impacted by wildfires and mountain pine beetle in the Interior. Enhancement would also occur on low-productivity, high-elevation hemlock and balsam forests on the coast to increase their long-term value. The program will specifically target areas that were previously thought to be too uneconomic to harvest and reforest.
Revenues generated from the sale of harvested timber and residual wood fibre from firescaping fuel management treatments and preparing areas for reforestation will be re-invested into the fund.
Pellet plants, OSB plants and other secondary manufacturers have been able to create new jobs and make use of residual fibre and low-quality mountain pine beetle attacked timber, creating a new economic sector.
The increased investment in reforestation will restore and enhance wildlife habitat that has been disturbed by the mountain pine beetle infestation and the accompanying large-scale salvage harvesting that occurred.
Firescaping, also known as landscape fire management planning, will see thinned park-like forests established on Crown land surrounding communities at high risk from wildfire. In areas where this has already occurred, communities are enjoying the recreational advantages of these open stands.
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations staff, working with communities, First Nations and the forest industry will select the best sites for treatment. BC Timber Sales will auction the harvest opportunities with revenues going back into the Forest Enhancement Program. In some areas, harvest opportunities will be directly awarded to First Nations.
The program will be operational in 2016-17.