Fund created to help minimize wildfire risk

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.

The province has created a $50 million fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks.

The new Community Resiliency Investment Program will provide funds, over the next three years, to local governments and First Nations. A similar plan was created following the 2004 wildfire season that ravaged parts of Kelowna and Barriere.

“Wildfires don’t recognize the difference between municipal, on-reserve or provincial Crown land, and neither should the programs designed to address those fires,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in a news release. “The new Community Resiliency Investment Program was designed from the ground up to address long-standing concerns with the way we were dealing with wildfire risks throughout the province.”

The Program takes a “holistic” approach to wildfire risk reduction and fuel management treatments, and will consider fire prevention activities on provincial Crown land and private land, in addition to local government and reserve land.

“The First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. is proud to have collaborated on this project and assisted in developing a program that will serve to help reduce the risk of wildfire in and around Indigenous communities,” said Brent Langlois, executive director of the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. “Together we can help to mitigate wildfire risk and protect communities in British Columbia.”

A key component of the new program is that it allows communities to apply for funding to cover up to 100 per cent of their wildfire risk reduction projects, as opposed to the previous cost-sharing requirements. The types of activities eligible for funding have also been expanded to include more activities covered by the FireSmart program’s seven disciplines.

“Local governments are looking for additional resources to reduce the risk of wildfire to their residents,” said Wendy Booth, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. “This new program builds on previous investments and provides communities with more options on the types of land that can be treated.”

Up to $10 million will be available in the 2018-19 fiscal year, with $20 million available in each of the following two fiscal years.

The Community Resiliency Investment Program is a big part of this renewed commitment and it will replace the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative. The new program will include two distinct funding streams:

* FireSmart Community Funding and Supports: First Nations and local governments can apply for funding of up to $100,000 for activities that will help reduce wildfire risks.

* High Value Assets and Critical Infrastructure Protection: This program is currently being developed and will focus on protecting important, provincially owned infrastructure (such as power lines and highways) from wildfire threats.

The first application intake for the Community Resiliency Investment Program (for up to $10 million in total in the 2018-19 fiscal year) opened Monday, Sept. 10, and will close on Dec. 7, 2018. Applications will be evaluated by the B.C. FireSmart Committee and project funding will be administered by the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

The Community Resiliency Investment Program is separate from and complements the funding program administered by the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. As of June 2018, the B.C. government has invested $235 million in the society, with over $134 million allocated to date for wildfire risk reduction, reforestation, forest rehabilitation, wildlife habitat restoration and raising awareness of the FireSmart program.

Quick Facts:

* The number and severity of wildfires in B.C. has increased in recent years, resulting in more potential threats to life, property and quality of life. The Community Resiliency Investment Program will focus on mitigating risks to communities by addressing existing funding gaps and making more activities that align with FireSmart disciplines eligible for funding.

* The B.C. FireSmart Committee is a partnership between: the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; the Office of the Fire Commissioner; the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia; the Union of B.C. Municipalities; the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. and the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.