Woodlot licensees, joined ministry, industry, local government and academics from around the province for the Federation of BC Woodlot Associations AGM held in Williams Lake, many seeing firsthand the impacts of the 2017 wildfires.
Organizer and federation president Brian McNaughton said more than 100 delegates attended and during a panel discussion on Saturday, there were numerous ideas advanced for necessary changes to the way public forests are managed.
“It set the stage for further discussions and the actions to need to occur,” McNaughton said. “While woodlot licenses may be a small forest tenure, many are fixed on the land base in critical areas that interface with communities and public infrastructure. This conference showed how seriously woodlot licensees take their responsibilities to manage the land and forests responsibly.”
On Friday delegates toured Fox Mountain to see where logging operations in a burned forest is being done by Williams Lake Indian Band and Tolko Industries.
In the afternoon they toured the Williams Lake Community Forest to see fire mitigation work presently underway.
Before the Fox Mountain tour, Mike Pedersen, region executive director of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Gord Chipman, a director on the association and local woodlot manager, and Ian Meier, acting executive director of the B.C. Wildfire Service made presentations at the Tourism Discovery Centre to the delegates.
Giving a 2017 wildfire recovery update, Pedersen said multiple funding sources manifested themselves during the last two to three years, with the biggest one being the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.
“It increased the ability for us to access funds from a point of mitigation, fire prevention and fire mitigation in and around communities and out on the landscape, and also to access the utilization of fibre,” he said.
Pedersen said roughly $300 million in funding will be coming into the region during the next four years overall.
There is also the Community Resiliency Investment Program (CRIP), which is roughly about $50 million, which will be used for wildfire urban interface work in a two-kilometre width around communities, he added.
“Another big focus has been on the post-wildfire hazard risk assessments and slope stability. We hit all the high-risk areas that dealt with public safety in 2017 before winter hit and had some components in the spring, particularly out west we had to deal with,” Pedersen said, noting the same type of risk assessments are being done in 2018.
Chipman, who has been a forester in the region for 25 years, began working with woodlots and community forests, particularly Alkali Lake a decade ago.
“I’ve been involved with fires most of my life. It started as a kid growing up at Puntzi Mountain in the Chilcotin, but 2017 was a major game changer for me,” he said.
“It changed the way we behave and the way we operate. In the last year I’ve been up the Cariboo Fire Centre working with people on different initiatives and a lot of that has paid off.”
When a lightning strike hit a debris pile in the Tatla Lake community forest on May 25, 2018, and there were 30 kilometre-hour winds, a fire started, Chipman said.
“Within eight hours we had that fire completely contained, we had more than 50 people on site, and within 24 hours we had it completely under control,” Chipman said. “That was a learned response. Something we learned last year about being prepared.”
It’s a new reality, with new concepts, Chipman added.
“We are doing a lot of landscape level planning, we’re not just looking at two kilometres around a section of houses, we are looking out 50 kilometres away and looking at the likelihood of where fires are going based on wind directions and things like that.”
As the acting executive director of B.C. Wildfire Service, Meier said fire suppression costs for 2018 will be over $500 million before the year closes out.
“In the last two years we are over a $1 billion in fire suppression costs, it’s not a trend we can afford to continue on with.”
Meier said BCWS started new strategies in 2018 and will continue to bring in all stakeholders, including woodlot owners, so everyone is involved with decision making.
“At least we will be hearing all the information and making decisions on all the available information.”