B.C. needs to invest more into fire prevention: expert
Posted August 23, 2023 7:54 pm.
As fire-torn communities in B.C. start counting losses, a University of British Columbia expert says the province is not investing enough in fire prevention, despite multiple recommendations over the last two decades.
Sarah Dickson-Hoyle, post-doctoral research fellow with the UBC Faculty of Forestry, said a lack of investment by the B.C. government is leaving some of the province’s most at-risk communities in vulnerable situations.
“Once again we’re seeing these small, rural, and remote communities being disproportionally impacted by these megafires,” said Dickson-Hoyle.
“What we’re really seeing with that limited investment is many of the communities that are in the most at-risk areas are still not treating the risk. They’re still not having the capacity or resources needed to identify risk, develop risk mitigation measures.”
Dickson-Hoyle said that also means there isn’t enough money for communities to clean up wildfire fuel — which can cost $6,000 per hectare — or $30,000 per hectare, here on the coast.
Calls for more money into fire prevention, rather than fire suppression
The act of fighting a fire is receiving way more investment than the act of preventing a fire, according to Dickson-Hoyle.
Compared to the billions of dollars spent on fire suppression, Dickson-Hoyle said less than 100 million dollars have been spent on fire prevention in the last few years. Between 2004 and 2018, Dickson Hoyle said the province only invested 81 million dollars into prevention.
Bruce Ralston, minister of forests, said he thinks this is a fair insight.
“The work on fire prevention is sometimes much smaller than the work on firefighting,” Ralston said.
After massive wildfires ravaged the Kelowna area in 2003, B.C. commissioned a report on the unprecedented wildfire season that year. Even 20 years ago, the report called for more fire fuel removal and prevention.
“The public debate has been there. I think sometimes the challenge is execution,” Ralston said.
“We are going to have to rethink our responses in a profound way and our government is committed to doing that.”
Dickson-Hoyle said the impact of not getting this action right, could mean big changes to our way of life in B.C.
“We’re already hearing reports of people considering moving from their hometowns. These could be rapid demographic shifts,” she said.
“And then in terms of our forests and landscapes, we have these hot, intense megafires burning. Maybe we’ll see transitions from forest to grasslands. Maybe these ecosystems won’t be recovering.”