Derek Sutherland, team leader of protective services for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, gained board of directors support to make a funding request for Fire-Smart training materials to the province’s new Community Resiliency Program. (File photo)

Columbia Shuswap Regional District to see funding for FireSmart initatives

New program has $20 million for reducing wildfire risk, some may go to non-profits, rebates possible

Derek Sutherland, Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s team leader of protective services, got a unanimous nod from directors to apply for up to a maximum of $100,000 for the development and implementation of localized FireSmart tools and educational activities.

At the Dec. 7 board meeting in Salmon Arm, Sutherland pointed out that the province’s new Community Resiliency Investment program, which is operated jointly between the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the Forest Enhancement Society, has $20 million in funding available for Crown land mitigation and Fire-Smart initiatives.

In 2012, the board had decided against pursuing funding that was available under the former Strategic Wildfire Prevention program because it required local governments to manage wildfire mitigation on provincial land surrounding communities, something that was seen as downloading by the province.

Instead, CSRD invested in three structural protection units, which Sutherland says have saved countless structures and earned $750,000 in revenue by being deployed to other communities fighting wildfires.

There is no policy in the new funding initiative that restricts the CSRD to manage forest fuels on Crown land, he said.

Related: BC’s new wildfire mitigation program raises questions for regional district

“The CSRD does not have the means to utilize taxes to fund the program costs or to fund the staff time and resources involved in this comprehensive program,” he pointed out.

“The most significant improvement to the new Community Resiliency Investment program grant is the addition of eligible applicants, including not-for-profit groups, provincial governments and provincial government contractors,” wrote Sutherland in his report to the board. “This improvement allows for special interest groups and provincial government departments to access the funding and manage treatment programs on provincial land.”

However, Sutherland pointed out that the development and implementation of localized FireSmart educational activities would add significant value to the CSRD’s emergency management programs.

Following Sutherland’s presentation, Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok asked him what staff has in mind to do with funding if it becomes available to the CSRD.

Sutherland explained the regional district would hire a consultant to provide expertise on a FireSmart program and hopefully train others to be able to assess properties for wildfire risk and get property owners to do risk mitigation on their own properties.

Related: Salmon Arm and Neskonlith partner for wildfire protection funding

There is a $500 rebate to property owners who mitigate the risks within 10 metres of structures, he added.

In reference to recent wildfires that destroyed the California town of Paradise, CSRD Chair Rhona Martin emphasized the need to learn from the experience.

Salmon Arm Coun. Chad Eliason pointed out the City of Salmon Arm is working with local First Nations on wildfire risk mitigation and suggested the three groups might co-ordinate their efforts.

On Sutherland’s recommendation, the board unanimously adopted a resolution of support for the Community Resiliency Investment program grant provisions, support for the application for funding through the new program and support for in-house contributions to back overall grant and project management.


@SalmonArm
barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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