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Private landowners the real ‘sticking point’ in next round of wildfire mitigation work: Nelson RDCK rep.

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
July 18th, 2018

The toughest part of implementing a wildfire mitigation service for the rural parts of the regional district — including the lands around Nelson — will be dealing with the private landowners, says the city’s RDCK board representative.

Mayor Deb Kozak said the regional district is looking to create a service establishment bylaw for a wildfire mitigation service — expected to be adopted in November — but they currently don’t have the ability to coerce private landowners to engage in wildfire mitigation.

Most communities have already done what they can to protect against fires within their municipal borders, but are powerless to act on the other side of their borders, she noted.

“The difficult thing for us is much of the land is privately owned around here,” said Kozak, “so there is no onus on private land owners to do any of that (wildfire mitigation) work.”

The service bylaw would move toward getting some cohesiveness on that, she said.

“Because if we are doing work on Crown lands and on regional district lands, but we don’t have the cooperation of private land owners to also do some of this ‘FireSmart-ing’ it is a bit useless,” she said about wildfire mitigation.

“We need their participation.”

Many areas of rural B.C. have significant holdings of forested private land which are not constrained by the requirement to plan for the impacts of forest harvesting, including those related to terrain, hydrological and slope stability, said Mike Morrison, RDCK manager of corporate administration.

But those forested private land holdings, if harvested, may affect municipal infrastructure, Crown land, adjacent private property and water sources.

Within that service the regional district will be looking to the province’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to develop those regulations.

Last month the regional district board passed a resolution to ask the province to develop and implement tree removal regulations for the planning and harvesting of trees on forested private land where there is harvesting of an area greater than four hectares in order to protect the adjacent property, infrastructure or natural resources from the incremental damage caused due to the large scale harvesting of trees.

The severe 2017 wildfire season heightened awareness of the need for a comprehensive wildfire mitigation program, said Morrison, and given the wildfire risks faced by regional district communities “the program has the potential for significant growth” in the near future.

As a result, a separate wildfire mitigation service would reduce the possibility of program costs being blended with other activities within a “catch-all” service.

The RDCK’s wildfire mitigation program supports all electoral areas within the regional district and the villages of Slocan, New Denver, Nakusp, Silverton, Kaslo, Salmo, the Town of Creston and the City of Nelson.

The program seeks to reduce community and individual vulnerability to wildfire within the two-kilometre wild land urban interface, Morrison explained in his report to the board.

The program provides the following services:

  • maintain and update Community Wildfire Protection Plans for all areas to inform wildfire mitigation efforts on Crown and private land, and guide land use planning;
  • provide district-wide wildfire fuel management on Crown land through the completion of fuel management prescriptions and operational fuel treatment units;
  • administration and leadership of a multi-year collaborative planning group to inform a district-wide strategy for wildfire fuel management;
  • FireSmart HomePartners and FireSmart Community Recognition programs to support vulnerable residents on private land;
  • wildfire pre-plans and emergency planning zones for wildfire interface incidents;
  • liaison with other stakeholder agencies in the development of wildfire mitigation initiatives; and
  • apply for and administer grants as available to support FireSmart, community wildfire protection plans, planning, prescription and operational treatment initiatives.

The financial implication of establishing wildfire mitigation as an RDCK service is based upon the 2018 budget of $103,700 for the wildfire mitigation programs. It was assumed that all municipalities and electoral areas would be participants in the new service.

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