Crowd gathered for presentation by climate change expert Kirsten Zickfeld, presented by the First Things First Okanagan group. Photo: Contributed

First Things First Okanagan speaker explores climate change and B.C. wildfires

Rob Gray, a forestry fire science analyst, speaks in Penticton as part of a lecture series

Climate change is not as bad as you think it might be. It’s worse.

The gloom and doom scenario is the current reality of how extreme temperatures are changing our environment and accelerating the risk of floods in the spring and forest fires in the summer, says Rob Gray, a forestry fire science analyst.

“The current weather trend is a bit worrying. It appears we are going to have a mild winter so the drought conditions of the past two years are likely to carry over to next year,” said Gray.

“I did a podcast for CBC back in the spring of 2017 talking longer fire seasons, less snow in the winter, less precipitation in the summer and more dry lightning, look for that to start to kick in more within another two decades, and that’s what happened in 2017 and again in 2018.

“And most of the weather computer models now indicate it’s now only going to get worse.”

Rob Gray leaning against a tree in the Kootenays where he is conducting a post-fire landscape recovery study. Photo: Contributed

Gray says our current generation and elected governments face some difficult decisions that will impact what condition our environment is for our children and grand-children, and downplaying or criticizing science for political advantage only makes those decisions easier to ignore.

“Climate change is a great navel-gazing exercise but what it boils down to is as a society, are we willing to sacrifice some of our wants and needs right now to prevent something bad from happening down the road that we today will never experience?”

Gray will be bringing his message in a presentation about wildfire effects and mitigation, sponsored by the First Things First Okanagan speaker series, in Penticton on Thursday, Nov. 1.

Gray says the solutions to help mitigate the impact of global warming exist, but they tend to be labour intensive and require environment infrastructure investment that governments are leery to sign off on.

“Myself and others are trying to make the argument when you look at the overall cost of these wildfires, it makes more financial sense to be spending more mitigation dollars up front,” he said.

Regarding forestry management, those measures would include prescribed burning; gathering up piles of slash, dead wood and needles on forest floors; finding new ways to use wood through pellet and bioenergy; encouraging rural homeowners to wildfire proof their homes; and generally see the forest as more than a tree harvesting plantation.

“I think there is a better understanding we have to do something (in preventative mitigation efforts) but the problem is government is so immersed in the existing process for funding,” he said, meaning its easier to commit money to deal with the damage fallout from a wildfire or flood than commit money in advance for preventative measures.

Gray said B.C. is worse off than most other provinces because of its existing forest inventory and impact on rural residents and communities that interface with those tree stands.

He said drought conditions have led to fires that have destroyed hundreds of thousands hectares of seedling plantations and left forest companies forced to chase after lesser quality burnt wood which becomes unmarketable as lumber two years after being burned.

He said while forests may seem immense to the casual observer driving around the Interior, when you map overlay the lost or damaged areas due to wildfire just in the last two years alone “there are a lot of big holes out there.”

“People are looking for answers. I have never seen this high a level of engagement on these issues as I have the last two years,” Gray noted.

“I work closely with a lot of fire chiefs across the B.C. Interior on wildfire prevention initiatives and I feel for those people because they don’t sleep from March until November now, living with the fear they might lose or have to evacuate their town because of a wildfire.

“I tell them to be aggressive as we can and try to mitigate those wildfire hazards while those of us in the fire science community battle with government to try and do things differently that the past in how we manage our forests. But it gets pretty frustrating.”

Gray will talk about those frustrations and how to move forward at his presentation, which takes place Nov. 1 at the Shatford Centre in Penticton, 760 Main St., 7:30 p.m.



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

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