They like the idea of more money, but Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors want more details on Forests Minister Doug Donaldson’s announcement at the recent UBCM convention.
Donaldson said the province’s new Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) program will expand opportunities for local governments and First Nations to reduce the risk and impact of wildfires by applying FireSmart principles.
“The CRI will replace the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative with a significant acceleration in the pace of funding,” he announced, confirming $50 million will be made available over the next three years, with $10 million committed for this year.
For 2019, the CRI will have a scaled structure with up to $25,000 or $100,000 available per applicant, depending on demonstrated wildfire risk. Applicants may choose from a suite of eligible activities that best suit their communities’ needs and priorities.
CSRD Board Chair Rhona Martin asked directors at the Sept. 20 meeting in Salmon Arm if they were interested in pursuing funding for fire risk mitigation.
“I’m hearing more and more concern from municipal and rural residents,” she said. “We have two or three forest districts in the regional district; is this program something we want to move forward with region-wide?”
But despite the fact the province recognized a funding gap that made it difficult for some communities to take advantage of the previous program has been closed, and successful projects will receive 100 per cent funding with no cost-sharing requirement, the CSRD’s chief administrative officer Charles Hamilton said the program was originally regarded as downloading by the government and should be referred to staff for review.
“This did come up a number of years ago and the onus was on CSRD to keep it up in perpetuity,” said Darcy Mooney, manager of operations management, of projects to reduce forest fuels. “We have a lot of Crown land and, at the time, the board decided to not join but instead get structural protection units. We need to study more to see what’s changed.”
Salmon Arm rep Chad Eliason made a motion to refer the matter to staff. It was seconded by Area C director Paul Demenok, who expressed his concerns.
“Whether we buy in or not is one thing, but are there other things we can do?” he asked. “Eagle Bay Road and Sunnybrae-Canoe Point Road where there were landslides have only one way in or out.”
The motion was passed unanimously.
Meanwhile, Donaldson’s announcement on the community resiliency investment program noted that, for the first time, provincial funding will be available to First Nations for on-reserve fuel management projects. Also, new funding may be used to provide incentives to private land owners to conduct FireSmart activities on their properties.
UBCM will administer the program in collaboration with the BC Wildfire Service, First Nations’ Emergency Services Society and the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, assisted by the BC FireSmart Committee.