Canada’s Tip for Australia: Prevent Bushfires, Don’t Just Cure

Thu 21 Sep 23


Predictions that point to a “catastrophic 2023-24 bushfire season” have put Australian firefighters and foresters on ‘red alert’ as they again stress that prevention is better than the cure.

An ABARES report in Wood Central warned of the return of EL Niño weather conditions this summer, exacerbated by a massive fuel build-up created by higher dry and frost-killed pastoral conditions across southern Australia.

Hundreds of volunteer firefighters have returned from battling Canada’s worst wildfire season – an omen for what lies ahead in Australia.

Canada’s Interagency Fire Centres have recorded more than 4240 wildfires since the beginning of 2023, scorching at least 11 million hectares of land across North America.

Christine Gelowitz, CEO of Forest Professionals British Columbia, says the time for waiting and conducting more studies is over – every possible dollar should be spent on prevention and mitigation.

In an opinion report in The Province, Gelowitz says.

 At the same time, the scale and impact of wildfires in British Columbia appear to be increasing exponentially; more steps could be taken to protect communities and the forest and to improve the ability to respond to and minimise the impact of wildfires.

“But doing so will not be easy or simple; it takes cooperation among the public, landowners, forest professionals, First Nations, firefighters, emergency responders and, most importantly, elected government representatives,” she says.

“The concept of preventing and mitigating the effects of wildfire goes back decades. Many homeowners and communities nestled in forested areas, like Logan Lake, have first-hand experience with the benefits of wildfire prevention programs.

“In 2021, when the Tremont wildfire threatened the town, the work prescribed by a team of forest pros over the years to reduce the forest fuel load in the adjacent community forest, along with the efforts of firefighters, was largely credited with saving the community.

“The core ingredients for a new vision and approach to wildfire is readily available in BC if governments are ready to make the investment and drive the required policy changes.”

Gelowitz says media coverage of this year’s wildfire season was filled with specific proposals and suggestions for change from fire and forestry experts and researchers.

“The BC government has a pair of excellent reports featuring more than 160 recommendations on steps we could take: the 2017 wildfire and flood review led by George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman and the 2003 firestorm report from Gary Filmon.

“And earlier this year, the BC Forest Practices Board released a special report urging the provincial government to align policies and programs across all levels of government to enable landscape-level fire management.

“While the provincial government has taken action on some of the recommendations, mostly those related to wildfire response, others remain in limbo despite being considered by experts to be valuable and critical to helping the province adapt to the increased presence of wildfires.

“Then there’s the issue of money,” says Gelowitz.

“Making our communities more resilient to wildfire will be expensive. Who pays and how much? The province has spent billions of dollars, most of it unbudgeted, on fighting wildfires, not to mention spending in response to flooding and landslides when burned slopes couldn’t absorb rainfall and snowmelt.

“But what if the government made big investments in the wildfire problem in advance? In 2022, The Vancouver Sun reported that provincial spending on fighting wildfires was $CAN4.16 billion since 2008 while only $224 million was spent on wildfire prevention.”

Gelowitz says that waiting and conducting more studies is over.

“In many communities, the planning is completed, and solutions have been tabled. They need to be implemented by policy and government funding at a scale comparable with the efforts devoted to wildfire emergency response.

“British Columbia has skilled and competent people who can help move wildfire prevention and mitigation activities forward: people who work in our forests, are part of the communities threatened by wildfire, and understand the full range of values at stake.

“Many of these people are registered forest pros working in provincial and municipal governments, for First Nation governments, for forest companies, for forest and environmental consulting firms, or teaching and researching at our universities and colleges.

“We know the solutions. We have the expertise. Now we just need the will to act.”


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