Wildland Fire – you can make a difference

Every British Columbian should learn how to be fire smart

By Steve Thomson

In recognition of this year’s theme for Sept. 20-26 National Forest Week, which is Wildland Fire – You can make a difference, Forests Minister Steve Thomson says there are important lessons every British Columbian to learn.

As Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, I always look forward to celebrating National Forest Week.

Forestry is a key economic driver supporting families throughout British Columbia.

In 2014, forestry provided 60,700 direct jobs and generated $12.4 billion in exports – accounting for 35 per cent of all B.C. goods exported.

One of the risks to our forests and its economic benefits is wildfire.

Fire is a normal, natural process in many of British Columbia’s ecosystems. Many species of plants, birds, insects and other animals depend on fire for its regenerative properties.

Fire also helps control insects and spread of disease in forests. It also creates forest regeneration, as younger trees replace older trees.

Land managers also use prescribed or control burns to restore ecosystems, to enhance habitat and improve forage, or to reduce the wildfire risk around communities.

In 2004, we introduced the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative to help local governments and First Nations reduce wildfire risks around their communities. We’ve provided over $67 million. To date, 286 communities have completed community wildfire protection plans and the fuel build-up on over 78,000 hectares of land has been reduced.

To complement those efforts and working with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, we have introduced the 2016 FireSmart Grant Program. Fifty grants of up to $10,000 each will be made available to local governments and First Nations to help communities identify and reduce wildfire risks on private land.

In keeping with this year’s theme for National Forest Week, Wildland Fire – You can make a difference – I would like to remind property owners they can reduce the wildfire risk on their properties through landscaping and following the tips in the FireSmart Homeowner’s Manual.

I would also like to remind British Columbians that the number of human-caused fires remains too high. Of the 1,805 wildfires this summer, 545 were caused by humans.

Because of the high percentage of human-caused fires that persists year after year, I asked Parliamentary Secretary Mike Morris to review the fines and penalties in place under the Wildfire Act for human-caused fires – and human interference in firefighting.

Twice in August, firefighting operations were shutdown because of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, flying in restricted airspace.

Drones put lives and public safety at risk. In addition to asking Transport Canada to strengthen its regulations, we’re looking to see how we can strengthen the Wildfire Act.

I encourage your readers to check out B.C.’s National Forest Week webpage at

http://member.abcfp.ca/WEB/ABCFP/About_Us/Affiliated_Programs_Events.aspx

British Columbians would be wise to go through the FireSmart Homeowner’s Manual – http://www.embc.gov.bc.ca/ofc/interface/pdf/homeowner-firesmart.pdf – and make their homes safer.

I hope during National Forest Week you take the time to enjoy the great outdoors and appreciate the beauty of our forests.

Steve Thomson is the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

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