In his weekly column, retired forester Jim Hilton talks about primary land management objectives in the vicinity of rural communities. Here is a seen from July 2017 where fire mitigation work was been completed above Williams Lake. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

COLUMN: Reducing wildfire risks starts with relationship building

Columnist Jim Hilton explores fire mitigation strategies.

The UBC paper coauthored by Daniels, Gray and Burton about the 2017 mega-fires has an extensive section on integrated wildland-urban, interface-zoning and proactive landscape planning which is a good starting point for any community wanting to reduce the impact of wildfires.

The introduction starts with relationships. In order to reduce the threat of wildfires, B.C. needs to develop a new relationship with rural communities, especially First Nations.

It stresses that the primary land management objective in the vicinity of rural communities should be long-term maintenance of low fire hazard condition.

It then lists a number of existing policies that must be changed or abolished in the vicinity (in some cases as far out as 15 kilometres) of rural communities.

Existing policies in two planning strategies — Commission on Resources and Environment ( CORE) and Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) — are specifically recognized as restricting progressive wildfire management approaches. The authors then describe some specific recommendations dealing with Ministry of Forests Lands Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).

First, all land outside the municipal boundary is to be directly managed by FLNRORD. All Crown land in the wildland urban interface (WUI) must be taken out of the timber harvesting land base (THLB).

However, this does not preclude future fibre recovery of these lands. As well, the fibre must be auctioned off with the profits fed back into WUI treatment and maintenance funds managed by the community and local resource district. Restocking requirements in the WUI must be abolished. Upper limits on stocking standards on other Crown land must be lowered (where relevant) to those that reflect reduced risk to high severity wildfire. Thus forest companies would be required to thin overstocked stands with the exception of deciduous stands.

Some of the recommendations regarding subsidizing and funding especially of private land may be more controversial.

For example: Where necessary the province must subsidize the removal of low value wood and make it available under auction to local bioenergy facilities or other users. The province must provide funding to access fuel hazards on private land in the WUI. The province must provide funding for fuel treatment on private land and home renovations to increase resistance to wildfire in accordance to Fire Smart recommendations.

Being one of the landowners on the rural interface, I feel it is my responsibility for this work since I chose to live here but some sort of assistance would certainly give all of us more incentives.

Other recommendations are related to the province opening up existing land use plans that allow WUI special management zones and other updates to be added. For example, remove or modify barriers to fuel treatment and wildfire hazard reduction in the mule deer winter range and old growth management areas.

I would like to expand on the recommendation for research which states the following; where wildfires have impacted treatment areas, post-fire research is needed to determine what elements of the prescription and its implementation have or have not worked. These treatment effectiveness monitoring opportunities should be publicized and provided as a resource to practicing foresters to facilitate adaptive management.

As has been suggested in other reports the FLNRORD needs to restore the research section to a level that is able to carry out a wide variety of projects which will help us learn from the extensive impacts of last years fires.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years.

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