Government inactive on wildfire threat in interface zones

The BC government’s own forestry watchdog is reporting that six  years after the Filmon report on the wildfires of 2003, only 5% of interface forests at highest risk for wildfire have been treated, says Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA and Opposition Critic for Forestry Norm Macdonald.

Interface forests are the wooded areas that surround residential or industrial development.  Specific steps need to be taken in these areas to reduce the likelihood that a forest fire would sweep through forested areas into developed areas.

“There have been reports on what needs to be done to protect communities, and there have been reports on the progress that the government has made on reducing the danger,” Macdonald said in a statement released Friday.  “But what still seems to be missing is a real commitment on the part of the BC Liberal government to get the work done.”

Following the terrible wildfires of 2003, former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon released a comprehensive report outlining a series of recommendations intended to ensure that all communities in the province be better prepared for the fire season of 2004.

“Here we are in 2010, following another summer of serious wildfires throughout the province, and we are still talking about getting moving on wildfire interface management.”

This week’s report was released by the Forest Practices Board, the independent watchdog for sound forest and range practices in British Columbia.  This report, entitled Managing Forest Fuels in the Wildland Urban Interface, February 2010, states that only a small portion of the highest risk areas have been treated to reduce risk.

“According to this report, 685,000 hectares of forest in British Columbia are considered to be at high risk for wildfire that could put people and their homes in danger,” Macdonald said.  “But only 35,000 hectares of this high risk area has a fuel management program in place.”

Much of the affected area is on Crown land which means the provincial government is responsible for fuel management.

“The provincial government says that they can’t afford to do the fuel management work that needs to be done but last year alone the government spent $400 million on fighting fires.  This level of spending for fighting fires is becoming more and more common,” said Macdonald.

The Opposition has been clear that the government needs to make interface fire management a spending priority.

“We know that we will have to spend this money managing fires in the future,” Macdonald said.  “Doesn’t it make sense to use some of this money today to deal with the conditions in interface areas that currently put so many homes and residents at risk?”