Premier Christy Clark surveys fires threatening Oliver and Midway from the air Aug. 16.

Is B.C. really burning? Not exactly

In terms of dollars spent and area burned, the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all well below average

On a recent drive through the B.C. Interior, I passed through McLure and Barriere, communities north of Kamloops that were devastated by wildfire in 2003.

While these communities have recovered, blackened tree trunks are still visible where fires burned for 75 days and forced the evacuation of 3,800 people.

With the early start to this year’s fire season, the media attention and effects of an unusual spring drought, you might think that B.C. is on pace to match that terrible summer.

You would be wrong. As of last week, area burned and money spent by the B.C. Wildfire Service had only just exceeded the totals for mid-August during last summer’s fire season, which were high but not remarkable.

The number of individual fires is higher this year, but that’s mostly a result of lightning storm patterns. Spending has topped $200 million, as it did last year at this time before finishing just below $300 million. The 2003 total was above $400 million, and the 2009 season was slightly below that.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson cautions that there are still many weeks to go and hot, dry conditions are expected for much of that. Once the damage is done for the year, the ministry reviews the impact on forests and begins assessment of which areas should be replanted and which should be left to regenerate naturally.

Pine forests need fire to regenerate, and the strategy in recent years has been to allow fires to burn out naturally and contain them to protect people and property. Decades of fire suppression, based on viewing Crown forests strictly as a timber resource, helped create conditions for the beetle epidemic that has left vast quantities of dead wood to fuel more fires.

The 2003 fire season set the tone for political debate on forest fire policy that has continued since then. The opposition points to recommendations from former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon that removing fuel from around communities is the best protection.

This task has proven impossibly big, especially as rural community tax bases shrink, but the ideological dance continues in Victoria. The NDP campaigned in 2013 on a promise to double tree planting, and its general approach is to spend more money and hire more staff.

Speaking of political dances, Premier Christy Clark has made a couple of appearances at fire sites where homes and businesses have been threatened or destroyed.

(Today’s big-city media formula is to emphasize danger and promote attacks on premiers of all stripes. If they don’t visit disasters, they are callous and uncaring. If they do, they’re exploiting the situation for photo ops.)

In her first fire scene appearance this summer, Clark warned that drought and huge fires may be “the new normal” for B.C. as climate warms and shifts. This is great positioning for the government’s plan to attend the latest global climate doom festival in Paris this fall, but it’s not borne out by recent forest fire results.

In terms of dollars spent and area burned, the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all well below average. Last year and 2009 were substantially above average, but 2008 and 2013 were among the quietest years on record.

Is drought the “new normal” too? The B.C. government’s own climate change forecast is for increasing overall precipitation, albeit with more rain and less snow.

Snowpacks for southern B.C. were indeed the lowest on record this past winter, but that record only goes back 31 years. And when were high snowfall records last broken? That would be 2011.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Glimpses of Revelstoke’s past for Oct. 14

125 Years Ago: Kootenay Star, October 21, 1893 Revelstoke Station is rapidly… Continue reading

Cannabis is legal, what do you need to know in Revelstoke?

Smoking regulations and business licenses are specific to a municipality

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

B.C. has only one bricks-and-mortar marijuana store

New bus route to ‘replace’ Greyhound along Trans-Canada Highway

Rider Express Transportation says they will soon begin a bus service from Winnipeg to Vancouver

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

VIDEO: First legal cannabis purchases as midnight strikes in eastern Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to kick off the sale of cannabis, just after midnight local time

Man holds newborn son for first time after devastating B.C. racetrack crash

Kayden was born the day after Jonathan was crushed by car at speedway

Smooth start to legal cannabis in B.C., Mike Farnworth says

Online and government store makes 4,000 sales in first four hours

Shuswap pot shops close as cannabis becomes legal

One marijuana dispensary won’t require city approvals as on First Nations land

B.C. Lions look to cement CFL playoff spot with victory over Eskimos

B.C. can cement a post-season berth in the wild West Division on Friday night with a home win over the Edmonton Eskimos

Canada ban on asbestos takes effect but mining residues are exempt

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna plans to announce the new regulations implementing the ban on Thursday in Ottawa

Okanagan College dives into cannabis courses

The college has adapted its programs in Kelowna

Don’t be dazed and confused about legalization

Sitting down with an Okanagan lawyer to clear the haze of marijuana rules

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day two of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

Most Read