The province says it’s making progress on the 108 recommendations from the independent review of the 2017 wildfire and flood seasons, including more cooperation with First Nations, but recommendations that could see more resources for local fire departments are moving ahead less quickly.
The review of the response to the fires and floods of 2017 was co-authored by former cabinet minister George Abbott and Maureen Chapman, a hereditary chief of the Skawahlook First Nation.
Roughly 1.2 million hectares was lost to wildfires in 2017, a number that was surpassed this year when about 1.3 million hectares were burned.
The action plan for responding to the Abbott-Chapman report, which was released Oct. 31, said “key actions underway include building on partnerships with Indigenous and local communities to improve emergency preparedness and build local capacity and resources for disaster readiness, response and recovery.”
The province also notes that it’s now set up a $50-million Community Resiliency Investment Program that’s replacing the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative, which came out of the Filmon report on the 2003 Kelowna fires.
During the 2017 fire season, Sunshine Coast Regional District officials said they were hoping to tap into those funds to create a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Having those plans in place for areas where interface fires are a risk was one of the goals of the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative.
There’s less progress on recommendations aimed at getting more resources for rural and volunteer fire departments.
The action plan said “further analysis [and] discussion” are needed on the recommendation for “ongoing funding to volunteer fire departments to assist with wildland urban interface response [and funding] to cover annual operating costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of capital infrastructure and equipment, as well as training for that purpose.”
The Abbott-Chapman report suggested the province’s insurance premium tax as a possible funding source, but the province said it has no plans to do that, although it is evaluating “alternative funding sources to support rural fire departments.”
Another recommendation that hasn’t gone anywhere yet is the idea that the federal government be encouraged to allow local government to use gas tax transfers for “fire service infrastructure and equipment.” Ottawa is not planning any reviews of gas tax criteria in the next year.
Some of the key actions involving First Nations and Indigenous communities include “incorporating local and traditional Indigenous knowledge into emergency management practices” and including traditional land uses and knowledge when creating wildfire protection plans and forest fuel management plans.
The Oct. 31 plan also talks about improving communication and making more information available to the public as well as “building awareness of the mental-health impacts of wildfire.”
The province said it continues to address the impacts of the wildfires and floods of 2017 and 2018 and assist affected communities.
The next update on the action plan is due April 30, 2019.