Our climate is changing; that is an irrefutable fact. And we need to deal with the implications of that fact.
Our communities are surrounded by forests. We have always lived with the danger of wildfires, but as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, and these fires become more intense and more frequent, risks to our communities will be drastically increased.
In British Columbia, the costs of fighting wildfires in recent years has been in the range of several billion dollars. We have some of the best firefighters and fire suppression infrastructure in the world. The focus is on saving lives first and then structures and infrastructure, and it is very expensive to do this properly.
We know that there are actions that we can take prior to a wildfire event that can potentially save lives and structures, as well as millions of dollars. Experts tell us that we can improve protection for our communities by removing excess woody debris that acts as fuel in perimeter forests.
Since the 2003 Kelowna wildfire, the government has promised to do this fuel management in areas around rural communities. These are areas identified as high risk from wildfires if there is not fuel management work done.
So far, more than a decade later, only 4% of the areas identified as high risk have been treated, and, of course, much of that area treated has at least partially regrown. The cost of treatment is about $9,000 per hectare; cheap, compared to fighting a fire or losing a home.
The woody debris removed from fuel managed forests could be used for commercial purposes, making the treatment more economical. In other jurisdictions, this waste material is used as biofuel for community buildings. For example, Revelstoke already has a community energy system using wood waste from their mill and it heats the new schools, as well as a number of other public and private buildings. Woody debris could also be used to make pellets or briquettes.
We have raised this issue with the Minister responsible for many years now, but again we are facing another hot summer with very little having been done to protect our communities.
We need to make fuel management in the forest areas around our communities a top priority. The BC Liberals said this would be done after the 2003 Kelowna fire. It is well past time that action followed that decade old promise.
Norm Macdonald is the MLA for Columbia River–Revelstoke.