Wildfires have hit rural communities in the Columbia Basin hard, and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively affected people living within.
To provide employment while taking preventative measures to reduce the risk of wildfires, 12 projects in 10 rural communities are receiving $1.2 million to create 93 jobs that improve community resilience to wildfire. The program is a partnership between the Province of British Columbia and Columbia Basin Trust (Trust).
The funding comes from the Columbia Basin Economic Recovery Initiative, which is part of the Province of B.C.’s Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction program.
The initiative is a partnership between the Trust (funding administrator), and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development through the BC Wildfire Service.
“During last year’s devastating wildfire season I was able to see firsthand the impacts FireSmart practices had holding back the flames from the community of Logan Lake,” said Minister Katrine Conroy. “In the face of climate change, year-round efforts like this partnership with Columbia Basin Trust are needed to reduce wildfire risk so communities here in the Columbia Basin can remain vibrant and resilient.”
Wildfire came close to the Village of Nakusp in summer 2021, giving the community firsthand experience on the need to plan ahead and focus on fire prevention.
In response, the village is hiring a dedicated FireSmart coordinator to promote FireSmart principles and activities and provide wildfire-related information so locals can make informed decisions. The funding for this comes in at $68,225.
“Wildfire presents the single greatest threat to Nakusp. Although the Village of Nakusp has been participating in FireSmart programs since 2017, the events of 2021 reinforced the need for greater municipal involvement in these activities,” said Mark Tennant, director of finance. “The new position will increase the village’s capacity to provide public education about wildfire resiliency and to liaise effectively with stakeholders to coordinate the local response in case of wildfire.”
Projects supported through this program will create jobs to help rural communities become more resilient to wildfire threats.
Activities will include: addressing the seven FireSmart principles; managing fuel on provincial Crown land, First Nations land or land owned by local governments; and supporting short-term training or capacity-building activities so communities can better identify wildfire risks and implement solutions. Funding recipients may be local governments, First Nations, non-profits, community associations or post-secondary institutions.
“Communities of the Basin have experienced extremely challenging wildfire seasons, and this program will help reduce future risks while at the same time creating employment opportunities for residents” said Johnny Strilaeff, Trust president and CEO. “By making rural communities more resilient to wildfire we improve public safety and protect homes and critical infrastructure. These actions will also help the region become more resilient to climate change, which residents have told us is a priority and which we incorporate into our work in the Basin.”
This program also had a successful first intake in 2021, supporting 17 projects that created over 200 jobs in 14 communities with $1.9 million in funding. Many of those projects will help reduce wildfire risks in the 2022 wildfire season.