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Wildfire-prevention project will keep Okanagan communities safe, protect water supply

May 6, 2024 at 1:16 pm  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

The Province is working with the Regional District of North Okanagan, District of Lake Country and the Okanagan Indian Band to protect the primary water source for Lake Country and the Greater Vernon area from the risk of wildfire.

“Many people in the Okanagan depend on the North Aberdeen Plateau for their drinking water,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests. “We know that the risk of a wildfire in the area could have very real impacts on the water people depend on, which is why we are taking action to protect this resource now and for future generations. Local partners have put in significant work to get us to this point and our government is proud to support getting this important project underway immediately.”

The North Aberdeen Plateau hosts critical natural resources and is a high priority for wildfire mitigation. Through $15 million from the Ministry of Forests, a project team will begin planning and implementing fire-mitigation prescriptions to protect water, water infrastructure and cultural heritage values in the North Aberdeen Plateau. This is a multi-year, multi-phase project, with phase 1 beginning immediately. Fire-mitigation work includes removing flammable woody material, thinning or pruning stands, and removing fallen or dead debris in order to slow or stop the spread of wildfire.

“We are pleased to be a partner in the protection of our watersheds, as we recognize and have recently experienced the significant impact that wildfire can have on our community,” said Blair Ireland, mayor, Lake Country. “We look forward to collaboratively working with our friends and partners in the Okanagan Indian Band and the Regional District of the North Okanagan to protect the cultural heritage values, water supply and water infrastructure that are important to our communities.”

The plateau is a water source for 18,000 people and agriculture producers in Lake Country, as well as a water source for the Greater Vernon Water Utility, which provides domestic and agricultural water to approximately 71,000 people in Vernon and Coldstream.

“As a community that has been recently and historically affected by wildfires, we are intimately aware of the need for more wildfire-mitigation procedures being implemented,” said Chief Byron Louis, Okanagan Indian Band. “While we would like to see more focus on culturally appropriate Syilx wildfire-mitigation practices, we’re happy to collaborate with our project partners to take positive steps toward protecting our land and water. It can’t be understated how important water is as a resource.”

Over the past five years, First Nations, local communities and the provincial government have continued to work in partnership on fire-mitigation projects in high-risk areas in the Okanagan. The North Aberdeen Plateau fuel-break project is an opportunity to build on the experience, capacity and relationships that have been developed, and continue long-term and strategic planning that can be expanded to a watershed level.

“The North Aberdeen Plateau is the primary water source for the Greater Vernon area and Lake Country,” said Victor Cumming, mayor, Vernon. “Provincial funding will help with wildfire mitigation through fuel reduction and facilitate the development of a long-term plan, involving tenure and title holders, to protect the shared watershed and cultural values.”

In April 2024, the Premier’s expert task force on emergencies released a summary of its recommendations, which included developing landscape-level, partnership-based resilience investment projects to demonstrate how to deliver risk reduction in the natural and built environment at the watershed scale. The North Aberdeen Plateau fuel-break project is the result of a community and partnership-based resilience project that is helping to reduce the risk of wildfire to the natural landscape.

The Province continues to implement recommendations from the task force to help prepare for wildfire season.

Quote:

Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee –

“The North Aberdeen Plateau is a critical resource for people and families in the Okanagan, and we know that more must be done to protect our water sources from the growing risk of wildfire. Getting started on this fuel-break project is an important and much-needed step in ensuring that our communities and our drinking water sources are safe.”

Quick Facts:

  • Since 2018 and committed through to 2028, the Province, through BC Wildfire Service, has invested approximately $466 million in wildfire-resiliency and risk-reduction projects.
  • The Province’s approach to wildfire-risk reduction is through strategic partnerships with communities, First Nations and external partners, in addition to the BC Wildfire Service’s direct wildfire mitigation.
  • Since 2016, $69.4 million has been invested in wildfire-risk reduction projects through the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC).
  • An additional $60 million was announced for FESBC to continue industry- and community-focused wildfire-risk reduction and fuel management as part of Budget 2024.

Learn More:

To learn more about wildfire-management strategies, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status/wildfire-response/management-strategies

To learn more about the Premier’s expert task force on emergencies, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-management/emergency-management/emergency-activation/em-taskforce

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