On Sept. 23, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) faced some tough queries by ranchers about rangeland, cattle issues and financial recovery for their agriculture operations at a meeting in Clinton.
While BCWS extended the meeting on Sept. 18 to a longer gathering just the day beforehand, fire information officer (FIO) Erin Catherall took down common questions from one of the hardest hit ranch areas in the B.C. Interior to handle the queries.
Catherall stated in her follow-up answers e-mailed to attendees (if requested) on Sept. 23, a couple of key questions were asked that BCWS needed to provide further clarification on.
The ranchers wondered if any rehabilitation work would be done on tree stands in Crown land and if BCWS is involved in replanting trees or other work to restore these burned trees.
The FIO replied that while some fire rehab work will be done on Crown land under the Wildfire Act, BCWS will not be doing the replanting.
She reassured them that a rancher or property owner who starts some of their rebuild or repair processes before the rehab claims process is complete, will still be entitled to compensation, where appropriate.
“People should mitigate their losses,” Catherall replied. “If they are going to seek compensation they should take photos and document their losses so they are able to prove their loss.”
Claims for compensation will be investigated and assessed in accordance with the legislation that may apply, so ensure you have all the information required when e-mailing them to Kamloopsfirecentreclaims2017@gov.bc.ca.
For questions, comments or submissions on rehabilitation, Catherall recommended requesting that a rehabilitation co-ordinator follow up on any issues by e-mailing them in writing to bcws.KFCrehabcoordinator@gov.bc.ca.
Others in attendance wanted to know how any home or property owner can find out if controlled burn operations or a natural wildfire was the cause of damage, to which the FIO replied information will be shared with the property owners on how decisions are made.
Beyond that, any further information about the fire not available to the public may be requested in a Freedom of Information (FOI), she noted.
Several area ranchers and residents wanted to know the process for testing the Bonaparte River watershed after such a high volume of ash, and how will they know if the water is safe for drinking or irrigation use.
Rancher Ron Eden has plenty of rangeland cattle drinking water in the Bonaparte area, and said afterward his understanding at the meeting was it falls under another ministry’s department.
“Of course with water, there might be an issue there, but they’re managing the fire so I don’t think one of their mandates is to test the water quality afterwards.”
“Water treatment is the responsibility of the landowner,” Catherall stated in her reply, and suggested those with further questions call 250-851-7340 to speak with an Environmental Health Officer.
While overall, not too many more of his own concerns arose hearing the FIO’s responses, Eden noted the back-burns in the Elephant Hill fire control area were definitely hot topics of discussion among area ranchers during last week’s meeting in Clinton.
Some back burns did not go as planned during the course of the Elephant Hill fire, which had lead to ranchers from the area demanding compensation from the wildfire service.
Folks have to remember that the Elephant Hill fire was already out of control, Eden added, and BCWS was trying to do something to get it under control, a process they’d reported had worked a portion of the time.
Noting he’d not yet had a chance to review all of the FIO’s written replies, the area rancher said he may have more to say once he does.
Eden’s own comments of concern so far relate to the sudden nature of BCWS plans for ranchers trying to find so many cattle spread across so many hectares of summer grazing land.
“Especially for ranchers that have livestock out in the bush, it definitely would be nice to have a little heads-up on what their plans are.”