New program will reduce wildfire risks.

·3 min read

As temperatures begin to rise, so do the risks of wildfires this season, as it follows hot on the trail of warmer summer days. The Province of British Columbia is partnering up with Columbia Basin Trust and aiming to be proactive.

“The Trust and the Province of B.C. originally partnered in March 2021, to address shared priorities to reduce wildfire risk and create jobs through the Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction Program - Columbia Basin Economic Recovery Initiative,” says Natasha Jmaeff, Manager, Delivery of Benefits. “The province invested $2.4 million, and the Trust worked with the BC Wildfire Service and its partners within the Ministry of Forests to develop a program uniquely distinct to the Basin’s geography and context. Through that initiative, 29 projects in the Basin received $3.1 million and 293 jobs were created.”

They will be supporting projects like the Community Resiliency Investment Program – a Columbia Basin Wildfire Resiliency Initiative that builds resiliency with community wildfires, especially in rural areas that face greater risk. This partnership between the province and Columbia Basin Trust has also had assistance from B.C. Wildfire Service in the development of support activities related to the seven FireSmart disciplines.

The seven disciplines that aid against the threat of wildfires are education, emergency planning, vegetation management, legislation, development, interagency cooperation, and cross training. Columbia Basin Trust will, not only administer the program, but will also distribute grants to successful applicants.

“Safeguarding communities requires advance planning and concrete actions to reduce wildfire risks and impacts,” said Johnny Strilaeff, President and Chief Executive Officer, Columbia Basin Trust in a June 6 media release. “In partnership with the Province of BC, we are continuing to help communities across the Basin prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change.”

This new program aimed to keep wildfires at bay is funded through the Province of B.C.’s Community Resiliency Investment Program and the Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction stream. It has a mandate to reduce wildfire risk and increase community resiliency to wildfire across B.C. and will build on a previous partnership between the province and Columbia Basin Trust which aided 29 past projects reducing wildfire risks in communities throughout the Basin. These projects can be led by local governments and First Nations communities, as well as legally incorporated society-run fire departments, post-secondary institutions and select non-profits. Examples of projects that were funded last spring include Wilmer FireSmart Fuel Management Prescription, and the Shuswap Indian Band Wildfire Risk Reduction Project.

“This program aims to help communities strengthen their wildfire resilience and reduce the risks of wildfire in Columbia Basin communities,” says Jmaeff. “We know that climate change is bringing hotter, drier summers and with that comes the potential for wildfires. With this program’s support we can help communities become more prepared for wildfires on Crown land, local government-owned land and First Nations land.”

A component of this plan to put out fires before they start, will involve raising community awareness and implementing FireSmart principles. This will include conducting fuel management demonstration projects on provincial Crown land, First Nations land, as well as land owned by local governments. The goal in mind is to increase the ability to identify wildfire risks and implement solutions. A wildfire advisor may also be available for groups to connect with for the development of priorities, project ideas, and applications, offering a myriad of solutions when the sparks start to fly.

“For Columbia Valley communities, and the rest of the Basin, this program means empowering communities to identify wildfire interface risks and implement community-led solutions,”says Jmaeff. “Funding through this program will support activities related to the seven FireSmart disciplines, capacity-building and skills development, fuel management demonstration and innovation projects, and planning for the application of cultural and prescribed fire.”

Columbia Basin Trust operates in the unceded traditional territories that run along the Columbia River and are of the Ktunaxa, Lheidli T’enneh, Secwepemc, Sinixt and Syilx Nations. To learn more about the current program visit ourtrust.org/wildfire.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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