The province's independent forest practices watchdog has released a report that backs up the results of a five-month-old Public Eye investigation into the state of wildfire protection in British Columbia. According to the report, "Years of very successful fire suppression, dry weather, insect infestations, and increased and uncoordinated development across the forested landscape have combined to create ideal conditions for catastrophic wildfires affecting tens of thousands of people." As a result, the Forest Practices Board has concluded dealing with that problem is a "matter of considerable urgency." But the board has identified a number of concerns that may be getting in the way - most of which will be familiar to Public Eye readers. Among them:
* some local governments believe it isn't their job to treat fire hazards on Crown land in and around their communities;
* the ongoing cost of fuel treatment projects - which involve the thinning or clearing of wooded areas that, if left alone, could increase the chances or severity of a forest fire - "may seem insurmountable" for governments without a large tax base;
* many local officials have been dealing with wildfire protection issues "off the side of their desk," with many of them lacking a "background in forest management;"
* despite a Union of British Columbia Municipalities legal opinion to the contrary, many communities are concerned they'll be liable if prepare a wildfire protection plan but don't implement it; and
* it can be difficult to "attract and maintain local government officials' interest in addressing interface hazard and risk" - as was the case in Fort St. John;
The report includes a number of recommendations directed at the Campbell administration - with the biggest ticket item being the need for more tax dollars to sustain wildfire protection projects over the long-term.
"The task at hand is huge - 685,000 hectares in BC are considered at high risk of an interface fire. To date, about 35,000 hectares have been treated," according to the board.
"Funding is still available under the joint provincial government-UBCM program, but more will be needed to address this problem on a provincial scale."