Up in smoke?

In its most recent budget and fiscal plan, the provincial government estimates it will spend $62 million on direct forest fire fighting costs in the coming fiscal year. But that estimate is dramatically lower than the average amount spent on such activities during the past ten fiscal years, according to an exclusive analysis by Public Eye.

Previously, the government estimated future forest fire fighting expenditures at $55 million per year - which represented the average amount spent between 1993 and 2002. But, between fiscal 1999/00 and 2008/09 the government spent an average of approximately $108 million putting out such fires.

And yet the government is now forecasting it will spend $3 million less on fire fighting in fiscal 2010/11 and 2011/12. This, despite the fact the government's own climate action plan reports global warming could "result in more wildfires."

Asked whether he thought those assumptions were prudent, Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell said the ministry will be upgrading its tanker bases and dispatch system "which should reduce our costs over the long term. So that's why you see an increase in this year's budget and a declining budget in future years."

A government spokesperson also stressed the Campbell administration expects preventative measures - such reducing the amount of fire fuel around vulnerable communities - will "help to contain fire costs over time." Although, that being said, "government is always prepared to spend whatever's necessary to protect the public."

The following is a complete list of direct forest fire fighting expenses between fiscal 1999/00 and 2008/09

***

1999/00 - $21,160,000 *
2000/01 - $51,495,352
2001/02 - $53,790,588
2002/03 - $37,780,801
2003/04 - $371,200,659
2004/05 - $164,595,032
2005/06 - $47,212,465
2006/07 - $159,037,311
2007/08 - $98,801,642
2008/09 - $82,168,624 (revised forecast)

* = different accounting rules for fiscal years prior to 2000/01 means this figure is not perfectly comparable

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