A few weeks ago I gave the keynote speech at a symposium the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition (CCBAC) organized to explore post-wildfire land and resource recovery issues. The essence of my talk was that this summer’s wildfire season may have been unprecedented, but it was not unpredictable. In fact, one of the panel speakers at the symposium, fire ecologist Robert W. Gray, has been predicting that BC’s forests were vulnerable to a catastrophic fire event for over a decade.
In 2005, I used a number of Mr. Gray’s reports in the BC Legislature when I was the Opposition Forest Critic. I was raising a red flag about the post-harvest accumulation of waste piles throughout BC’s forests, not just in the Mountain Pine Beetle salvage stands. I was also raising concerns about the failure of the government to act on the Filmon Report after the 2003 “Firestorm” season. As I noted at the recent CCBAC symposium: drought-pest-fire has become a predictable pattern in many forests throughout the world and BC could have and should have done more to mitigate the third step in this natural progression in order to prevent the catastrophic fires we experienced this summer.
As industry and various MLAs push to see an expedited salvage of any recoverable stands in the burnt over areas in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the unburned forests in our region still have a significant amount of slash and dead standing timber in them. Left untreated, these forests are highly susceptible to the kind of fire events we saw this summer. We need as much attention put toward mitigating next summer’s potential forest fires as we do toward recovering any commercial value from this summer’s fire damaged forests.
To this end, the City of Quesnel is in the process of renewing its Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). This plan will give us an accurate assessment of the risk areas around the community that need immediate and short-term fuel treatments, and it is Council’s intent to get these treatments completed as soon as possible in the New Year. The last CWPP created for the area surrounding the City of Quesnel was developed in 2007, but that plan timed out after 10 years with only 25 hectares of the ‘wildland urban interface’ (WUI) treated to reduce forest fuels. According to a recent report from the BC Wildfire Branch, Quesnel’s WUI needs at least 15,000 hectares of critical fuel reduction treatments to address our most imminent risks.
The City of Quesnel has also asked the provincial government for a community forest license over the forests immediately surrounding the City and its adjacent neighbourhoods in the Regional District. Part of the reason very few fuel treatments were conducted in the WUI between 2007 and 2017 is that the crown forest in this area requires more ecologically and socially sensitive harvesting; an expensive undertaking that needs more public engagement and buy-in. Council believes that a community forest license is the right tool to enable us to fully engage the public in managing the forest surrounding our community while taking the necessary steps to mitigate the forest fire risks that exist in the WUI.
Along with the key message that this summer’s fire season was ‘unprecedented but not unpredictable’ I also noted at the CCBAC Symposium that the unprecedented nature of this summer’s forest fires begs an unprecedented response. While steps are being taken to help us address some of the more immediate consequences of this summer’s wildfires on our community, it remains to be seen if the new provincial government has the courage and vision to mount a truly unprecedented response.