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Wildfire mitigation a hot topic after devastating fire season in South Okanagan

FILE PHOTO - Property scorched by the July 4, 2017 wildfire in Kaleden.
November 17, 2017 - 11:30 AM

PENTICTON - More money and support is going into fire mitigation programs following this year’s devastating wildfire season in the South Okanagan.

Davies Wildfire Management Specialist John Davies spoke about provincial wildfire prevention plans and work done in the South Okanagan at yesterday’s, Nov. 17, Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board meeting.

Davies said more stakeholders are coming to the table to provide additional funds and resources for wildfire mitigation as treatment efforts grow in size from “postage stamp” sized properties to larger scale “landscape level” projects.

“The treatments have to get bigger in order to be more effective in protecting communities,” Davies said, adding treatments don’t necessarily have to involve burning.

In the South Okanagan, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the B.C. Wild Sheep Society have been two key partners in efforts to access funding and getting out on the ground to do the work.

“To have an effective prescription that accounts for all values on the landscape, you need to have all the stakeholders at the table that have a value, so these need to be driven by those grass roots values,” he said.

Davies says two new programs have been introduced to complement and bolster community fire prevention efforts in the past two years including the Fire Smart program, introduced in 2016 and designed to provide funding up to $10,000 to provide wildfire mitigation on private land, as prior to that funds were only available for Crown properties.

Another new program introduced last year was the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., which provides funding for work outside of the wildlife urban interface area to address such things as wildfire mitigation, habitat enhancement and other environmental initiatives.

Davies, who presented an overview of the district’s wildfire prevention initiative, has been consulting for the regional district since 2008. He’s been involved in wildfire prevention work since funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities began in 2004, following the release of the Filmon report regarding the 2003 wildfires.

The initiative is made up of two components consisting of the development of a community wildfire protection plan, followed by an operational fuel management program.

The common thread between a fire’s ability to burn and fire behaviour is fuel, Davies said, which is the logic behind the wildfire management program. Remove the fuel, and a fire’s ability to start and to burn will be suppressed.

Davies says the increasing severity of wildfires in the Okanagan is one of our own making, caused by changes in forest management over a century of settlement.

Community Wildfire Protection Plans are assessments of local wildfire hazards looking at everything from fuel hazards to community specific issues such as emergency egress.

Comprehensive maps are then generated with all structures identified into a final assessment risk map that shows how much risk and where it is.

Davies says the whole district was mapped in 2010, with 100 treatment areas rated with a high or greater rating. Those areas are being treated in priority order, based on fuel hazard, as funding is made available.

To date, $163,000 has been spent developing fuel management prescriptions in the regional district, with $2 million going towards fuel management operations.

Most recently, money has been made available from the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Forest Enhancement Society to develop some fuel management prescriptions for landscape level fuel breaks in the Penticton and Ellis Creek areas.

The regional board approved a recommendation at yesterday’s meeting to support a funding application $601,000 for fuel management prescriptions and burns in the Penticton and Ellis Creek wild land urban interface, as well as a prescribed burn treatment for the Arawana project near Naramata.

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