To the editor:
We are losing our common natural heritage one forest fire at a time.
The forest fire that began Sept. 5 in Bear Creek Provincial Park in West Kelowna is a tragic reminder of the fragility of our forests and the devastating consequences that occur when people act without regard for nature. Although the police investigation is still pending, the police have said that the forest fire was apparently caused by humans.
In B.C., our forests draw tourists from across the globe and provide an endless source of beauty and recreation for outdoor enthusiasts. Most importantly, our forests represent a common heritage to pass on to our children and grandchildren and yet one that is being rapidly depleted. The B.C. Forest Service estimates that on average half of wildfires in B.C. are human-caused.
The fact that many forest fires are not spontaneous natural occurrences calls for a widespread public response. Dry conditions alone are not an excuse for forest fires. One burning cigarette butt or unmaintained campfire can mean the end of an era for a forest which can take up to 100 years to regenerate. In the meantime, we are left with a scarred landscape that bears little resemblance to its former beauty.
We are all responsible for ensuring that the remaining forest spaces in the Okanagan Valley remain intact for future generations. As rainfall patterns change with the climate, building a campfire under dry conditions can have disastrous natural consequences—consequences that can exceed our own lifetime.
Fire bans need to be applied as a precautionary measure rather than as a last-resort reaction after a forest fire has already been extinguished and the damage done. While open fire and campfire bans have been in place in the Merritt and Lillooet fire zones since mid-August, no campfire ban was in place in the Penticton fire zone when the Bear Creek forest fire occurred.
Individuals who start forest fires, out of negligence or intent must be brought to justice for their actions which will have lasting impacts on future generations. The British Columbia Wildfire Act provides for a fine of up to $1 million, three years imprisonment, or both for individuals convicted of intentionally or recklessly starting a wildfire in Crown forest land or Crown grass land. Among other measures, the court can order individuals who are convicted of starting wildfires to undertake any action to remedy the environment resulting from their actions and direct them to compensate the government for remedial measures taken.
Montreal via Kelowna