Fire knows no boundaries, but bureaucrats surely do.
This may be a slight stumbling block in a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in the works for the Fort St. James area.
A CWPP is a plan designed to identify the risk and potential hazards of wildfires coming into the forests surrounding a community (called an interface fire), identify the measures needed to mitigate those risks and then outlines the implementation of those measures.
For example, thinning trees around a subdivision would reduce the risk of an intense fire near the homes in the subdivision and then homeowners may also be educated about some of the measures they can also take to reduce the potential for an intense wildfire on their own property.
Funding has been secured to develop a plan in the Fort area, and the District of Fort St. James is partnering with Nak’azdli to do it.
According to Fire Chief Rob Bennett, they would like to be able to include the parts of the community within the fire protection area, but they are experiencing a stumbling block.
The stumbling block comes in the form of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, which has so far not come to the table.
Crissy Bennet, who is working on developing the plan now, said some work has already been done by members of the forest service, and she is meeting with a forester from the Vanjam Zone to look at the risks in the area and discuss the options for fuel management of the forests in the interface areas of the community.
The district will be working closely with forest service specialists to ensure the plan has all the components in place.
Some areas near the community may even simply be harvested to reduce the risk.
But without the involvement of the regional district, she fears they would have to focus more on the District of Fort St. James and Nak’azdli exclusively.
“If they come to the table we would definitely look at the fire protection area,” said Crissy Bennett. The fire protection area would include areas such as Airport Road and Sowchea.
For their part, the regional district believes they do not have any authority over Crown land, according to Lance Hamblin, chair of the regional district, Bulkely-Nechako. They would only be able to encourage private landowners to mitigate the risks on their own property.
“We are very concerned about it,” said Hamblin. “But it’s outside our jurisdiction.”
Confusingly, other regional districts in the province have already done extensive work on CWPPs involving Crown land, readily viewable on the Ministry of Forests website.
Plans have been worked on in the Cariboo Regional District, the Nanaimo Regional District, and the Squamish-Lilloet Regional District.
Mel Dunleavey, a wildfire consultant who developed the CWPP for the Cariboo Regional District a number of years ago and who has continued to work on CWPP-related projects, said he can’t see a great difference between the forest in this area and the forests in the Cariboo in terms of risk.
The “sea of dead pine” puts communities at a higher risk, according to Dunleavey, making fires more intense, then when the dead trees start to fall over, the blow-down makes things even worse.
“The fires are going to be way more intense and way more difficult to control,” said Dunleavey.
He said the Cariboo Regional District has been very progressive in seeing the potential danger to the communities, a danger reinforced by a number of close calls in both the 2009 and especially the 2010 fire seasons, when a number of communities across the Cariboo were forced to evacuate as large wildfires threatened homes in the area.
Mayor Sandra Harwood was taking a formal letter to the regional district requesting to be put on the agenda for the November 20 meeting to discuss the regional district’s involvement in the CWPP.