During a Union of B.C. Muncipalities conference Friday afternoon, Premier Christy Clark announced an investment of $10 million toward preventing wildfires in the province.
The announcement came side-by-side with several other funding boosts, including $5 million toward crime prevention and investments into rural communities. The $10 million will be a top-up to the $78 million Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative.
“Given the prospect of increasingly hot, dry summers, I’ve asked Minister Thomson to come up with new, innovative approaches to complement the work that has already been done,” said Clark during the announcement. “That starts with helping communities manage higher-risk land immediately around them.”
The initiative funds local governments and First Nations to reduce wildfire risks around their communities and establish wildfire protection plans, of which 286 communities have already done.
Additionally a Forest Enhancement Program will aim to harvest dead timber and reduce the risk of wildfires by removing potential fuel, as well as reforestation.
The province will sell the harvested timber and wood fibre to provide additional funds for the initiative.
“We’re committed to improving the ecological health of our ravaged forests as well as working to ensure communities can benefit from the jobs they provide. I believe this new program will also meet objectives under our Forest Sector Competitiveness Strategy to provide a reliable and sustainable timber supply and stability for rural communities,” said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
It is estimated that over 304,000 hectares of forest were burnt during the summer 2015 wildfire season. The Forest Enhancement Program will also target areas decimated by the pine beetle, an infestation that has affected over 18.6 million hectares of forest.
In terms of spending dollars, wildfires cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to fight. The province spent $297.9 million in 2014 and this year’s bill will likely be just as high.