Wildfire burning down a hillside towards Williams Lake last summer. Photo: Williams Lake Tribune

Column: themes from the 2017 B.C. Flood and Wildfire Report

Columnist Jim Hilton offers an overview of the new fire and flood report’s 14 Strategic Shifts

The long-anticipated report on the B.C. Flood and Wildfires of 2017 submitted April 30, 2018, finally came out last week. An independent team, co-chaired by Maureen Chapman and George Abbott, produced a 148-page report, along with a shorter executive summary. Not surprisingly, the report was similar in many ways to the regional report from the CRD, with the main difference being the coverage of the flooding concerns in addition to the wildfires.

The recent report is framed around four interrelated themes: partnership and preparation; knowledge and tools; communication; and awareness and investment.

A total of 108 recommendations were discussed, which included 14 “Strategic Shifts” throughout the recommendations. For example, the first section discussed the importance of working with Indigenous governments and communities. The first Strategic Shift was as follows: “Develop strategic partnerships and operational agreements with key community members, forest professionals, First Nations, tenure holders (forest, range, guide outfitters and others), as suitable to provide increased response capacity and promote resilience across the land base. As part of this arrangement, B.C. should consider training and registering partners.”

(Strategic Shift #2) Establish emergency centres of excellence in Interior locations to support largescale disaster response.

(Strategic Shift #3) Review and clarify roles and responsibilities for flood management, specifically the transfer of responsibility from provincial to local governments, including through the amendment of the emergency Program Act, The BC Flood Response Plan, and other applicable statutes and regulations.

(Strategic Shift #4) Build a central hub or ‘one-stop shop’ emergency communications website to provide the public with reliable, responsive, adaptive, real-time and customer-focused information.

(Strategic Shift #5) Undertake a portfolio approach to prevention where all possible partners are identified, collaborate to reduce risk, and assess performance and success at the portfolio level, including:

• Forest licensees

• Partnerships between BC Wildfire Service and First Nations communities

• Private land owners

• Federal, First Nations and local governments

• Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, including B.C. Parks

• Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development

• Funding partners (current examples include: Forest Enhancement Society of BC and Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative)

(Strategic Shift #6) Encourage the establishment of area-based tenures adjacent to Indigenous reserves and non-Indigenous communities, where not already established as community forests.

(Strategic Shift #7 and #9 were related) Encourage fire as a part of land management and increase the use of traditional and prescribed burning as a tool to reduce the risk associated with landscape and local-level hazards, and to regenerate ecosystems.

(Strategic Shift #8) Expand FireSmart community objectives to become broad-based objectives for all of British Columbia. Establish a governance structure to support implementation, monitoring and continuous improvement of FireSmart objectives.

(Strategic Shift #10) Increase the resiliency of B.C.’s ecosystems and communities against climate change, establish a predictable and stable revenue stream to provide enhanced investment in prevention and preparedness. Consider a new carbon tax revenue stream as a source of funds.

(Strategic Shift #11) Improve inter-agency operations by developing a single, integrated system for identification and access permits at roadblocks. Ensure corridor routes during states of emergency remain open for as long as possible and reopen as quickly as possible following emergency events.

(Strategic Shift #12) Support a ‘B.C. first’ model for employment during emergencies where, as additional resources are required, qualified Indigenous and non-Indigenous companies, contractors and consultants from B.C. are selected first. Resources from other provinces and countries to be deployed after readily available B.C. employees have been deployed.

(Strategic Shift #13) Co-develop timber salvage harvest plans with all forest tenure holders, including the joint planning and allocation of available timber for harvest.

(Strategic Shift #14) Consistent with the Sendai principle of Build Back Better, the Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) and Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) programs provide greater flexibility to restore damaged sites in ways that reduce the likelihood of repeat events. BC create a fund for the acquisition of lands and properties which, while legally created and/or constructed, are no longer viable given disaster or climate-related events.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo-Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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