Wildfire recovery and prevention

January 24, 2018
Council Column
The slash pile burn that created panic near 70 Mile House last week is a stark reminder of how vulnerable we all feel as a result of last year’s unprecedented forest fire season. That fire is a timely reminder that we need to do everything we can to mitigate and minimize the risks of future catastrophic fire seasons.
While the provincial government continues to refine its analysis of the land base impacts of last summer’s forest fires, local government recovery efforts have documented the human impact and have helped direct individuals, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses to the appropriate support programs available through the provincial government, the Red Cross, Community Futures, and other service providers. 
The North Cariboo Recovery Team is now working on options and opportunities for the government to support our region to recover from not just last year’s fires, but also the impacts of the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) epidemic. Unfortunately, the Quesnel Timber Supply Area suffered the greatest impact from both the MPB infestation and from last summer’s wildfires. So, our key message to the Province is that we were a community in transition already and the wildfires we experienced last summer have merely accelerated our timeline and reinforced our need for more timely assistance. 
To accelerate our transition strategy, the City of Quesnel has applied to the provincial government for financial assistance through the Rural Dividend for three projects: the development of a long term, comprehensive economic diversification strategy; the creation of a technical appraisal and vision for the development of our riverfronts (part of our desire to become a destination community); and, a request for funding for a two-year integrated and strategic community-based marketing initiative. The Cariboo Regional District has also applied for Rural Dividend Funding for a major trails development initiative in the North Cariboo that would see us make great strides toward the implementation of our recently received Master Trails Strategy.
A more immediate outcome of our recovery efforts is the addition of the sno-ball tournament to this year’s Winter Carnival (February 3 and 4). We’re hoping this fun event will attract teams and spectators from out of town and will be the kick-off for a new winter festival that we’ll grow and develop into something that attracts people to Quesnel and the surrounding area to enjoy all the great activities and venues we have to offer during the winter months. 
Along with these efforts to promote our community and diversify its economy, we are also working with the provincial government and other agencies to reduce future wildfire risks. The City of Quesnel has developed a new Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and we’re now working on the fuel management treatments needed to implement this plan. The Chamber of Commerce is hosting a business evacuation preparedness seminar on February 13th and the City will be hosting an afternoon planning session and an evening public forum on the topic of “The Era of Megafires” on March 8th. Watch the City website for more details. This planning session will analyze our key landscape vulnerabilities and ensure they are accounted for in our CWPP and in the Provincial Government’s fuel management treatments.
This week we will also be meeting with the BC Flood and Wildfire Review Team to discuss ways to improve emergency preparedness and planning, the management and decision-making processes during emergencies, and ways to expedite recovery efforts. This dialogue will feed into the provincial government’s desire to make improvements to the Province’s emergency preparedness and response system.
Every effort is being made to learn from last year’s fire season, address its immediate socio-economic and environmental impacts, and reduce the potential of future wildlife threats while at the same time continue to manage our way through this challenging transition period.
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