The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) has released its commissioned report, Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia, which makes 108 recommendations for both prevention and dealing with flooding or wildfires.
“Their 108 recommendations will take some time to fully consider. There are some recommendations that are being acted on already. For example, as part of Budget 2018, we’re committing $50 million over three years to wildfire prevention and wildfire risk reduction around communities,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of FLNRORD.
Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes says she is pleased that those affected had a chance to engage with government on the report, but is concerned about funding.
“We’ve got these recommendations, and how are we going to afford them? … They committed $50 million for three years for wildfire prevention and risk reduction, and I look at the damage to the roads even in the last few weeks… I’m hearing estimates on the Deep Creek Hill alone, they are saying it will be $20 million. So if you look at Batnuni, you look at Honolulu – that’s a significant amount of infrastructure that we will have to look at how to rebuild,” she comments.
Currently, there is no plan to re-open West Fraser Road, due to the extent of the flood damage. Oakes says perhaps it is time to look at other solutions.
“Where the Marguerite Ferry used to be – why aren’t we building a bridge? I am fully behind that. We keep pouring millions of dollars each year into the Deep Creek Hill. When do we start looking at other opportunities? It might be less expensive in the long run.”
Oakes says she also raised the issue of access for the forestry industry during the report presentation in Victoria.
“It’s hard for communities to plan on the forest management side when access is an issue. If we’ve got damage on roads, that changes all the emergency planning processes for our region, because a lot of these roads aren’t passable,” she says.
Organizations including the B.C. Wildfire Service and Emergency Management B.C. have implemented 19 of the 108 recommendations already, says the Ministry, and the government plans to develop an action plan to address more by Oct. 31, 2018.
On Tuesday (May 15), The Tsilhqot’in National Government released a statement on the wildfire review, saying they are disappointed with the lack of opportunity for involvement. The release says Tribal Chairman Chief Joe Alphonse did not receive an official invitation to participate in the review.
“As far as the Tsilhqot’in Nation is concerned, we were at the frontline of the 2017 wildfires and took a leadership role in escalating the need for change,” comments Chief Alphonse.
“The B.C. Flood and Wildfire Review is incomplete without the input of our Nation and our communities.”
The independent reviewers did hold community events around the province to seek public engagement, and also encouraged online engagement from residents.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the recommendations:
A large number of the recommendations focus on working with Indigenous governments and communities. These include things such as establishing true partners and leaders in emergency management by including First Nations from the beginning, ensuring emergency services available to First Nations are comparable to other communities of similar size and location, developing a youth leadership program and building cultural sensitivity training and awareness of racism and discrimination into emergency management plans.
The report also recommends developing strategic partnerships and operational agreements with others, such as 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. Examples include developing a partners’ program where, prior to wildfires, local resources are assigned to containment line teams consisting of heavy equipment, forest professionals, technicians and workers who use their local knowledge and expertise to establish containment lines as part of tactical operations; and a preferred contractor procurement model for the B.C. Wildfire Service to be offered as an option to standing offer participants.
Furthermore, it’s recommended to establish more area-based tenures, such as community forests and woodlots.
Many of the recommendations deal with preparedness, such as establishing emergency centres of excellence in Interior locations to support large-scale disaster response, holding workshops and forums and establishing mutual aid agreements, as well as improving integration between governments.
Some of the recommendations for equipment include establishing equipment caches for rural and remote communities, as well as leveraging economies of scale to reduce costs for external sprinkler systems for residents.
The report calls for reviews of plans, flood evaluations, models and risk modeling.
About 50 per cent of survey respondents indicated dissatisfaction with communication. The report recommends building a central hub or ‘one-stop shop’ emergency communications website to provide the public with reliable, responsive, adaptive, real-time and customer-focused information. This hub should collect information from provincial departments and agencies, First Nations and local governments and relevant stakeholder agencies, including media. It should also provide emergency updates for evacuees and include citizen information on how to assist, volunteer or donate.
Part of the recommendations is around building capacity to deal with large-scale disasters. This includes providing extra training, such as increasing the number of basic firefighters by providing open access to S-100 training for all natural resource sector staff, industry, First Nations, communities, ranchers and other tenure holders as well as creating training courses.
Fire safety incentives
The report also calls for improvements to buildings’ fire safety, such as mandating the insurance industry to create incentives for building with fire-resistant materials, as well as adjusting building codes and bylaws. This also includes a wide range of community FireSmart objectives.
Some recommendations call for applicable ministries to reconcile status limiting burning. Going a step further, it recommends fire to be established as a management objective, to increase the use of burning as a tool to reduce risk and to assess the possibility of a prescribed burn statute that would offer protection for responsible and permitted burners.
No rotation of IMT
It’s recommended that the B.C. Wildfire Service eliminate the rotation of Incident Management Teams (IMTs) to various fires prior to containment, and to support IMTs by creating specialized respite teams to transition and backfill IMTs or develop an alternate respite strategy.
New carbon tax
It’s recommended to create a carbon tax to establish a predictable and stable revenue stream, along with a strategy on how to prioritize funds.
Salvage fire-damaged timber in a manner that maximizes economic, ecological and other values and is well coordinated and communicated with licensed resource users on the land base, as well as removing disincentives for removing burned wood and developing replanting strategies.
See the full report.