Okanagan officials are expected to welcome a provincial government funding commitment of $111 million over the next three years to support wildfire mitigation and prevention efforts.
Finance Minister Carole James revealed that spending priority in her 2019-20 budget presentation Tuesday in the Victoria.
Bruce Smith, spokesman for the Regional District of Central Okanagan, said fuel modification efforts have been carried out by valley civic governments and the regional district over the past decade.
“Most of that has been based on government grants combined with local government commitments as well,” Smith said.
He noted fuel modification work has been done in regional parks and rural neighbourhoods that interface with forested areas.
“We’ve done fire suppression projects in Rose Valley, Kalamoir Park, Mission Creek Park and even our new park in Black Mountain that hasn’t even officially opened yet,” Smith said.
“We know it helps reduce the impact of any fire that might occur, especially for us in our regional parks.”
This funding will be in combination with the $60 million announced last year under the Community Resiliency Investment to also reduce wildfire risk.
Sonja Zoeller, communication manager for the ministry of finance, indicated the new fire suppression money will be targeted at direct fire control, communication and community engagement during wildfire season.
How much of that $111 million will end up in the Okanagan region is yet to be determined, Zoeller says, as those decisions will unfold over the next few months.
As well, a further $13 million has been budgeted to address forest restoration in areas damaged by disease and wildfires.
Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson said last year fire suppression funding is a reflection of the current forest fire realities facing the province, of the need to spend more money on preventative measures because of the rising cost to combat forest fires.
The provincial government has allotted $64 million each of the last two budget years to fight forest fires, and the actual costs in both years was more than 10 times what was allocated.
“The aggressive nature and the large nature is something that’s been predicted and is now here, so what we have to do is bolster our preventative and mitigative measures,” said Donaldson.