Big boost to wildfire budget

On the heels of the two worst wildfire seasons in B.C.'s recorded history, the province has increased the wildfire fighting budget by 58 per cent.

The increase in wildfire management funding, which was included in the 2019 budget last month, will see $101 million allocated annually to fighting fires, up from $64 million in the past.

While the budget has increased substantially, $101 million still falls short of the $568 million spent on fire suppression in the 2017 season and the more than $350 million spent last year.

On Tuesday, Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said the government still has statutory authorization to spend well beyond the budget when it's needed.

“What (the increase) allows is better planning, better rapid response and better prevention activities,” Donaldson said. “If we need more than $101 million in direct response, it's always available.”

The increased budget will allow new technologies to be tried out, like night-vision goggles to help with early fire detection and increased use of drones to help with fire mapping and infrared scanning.

On the prevention side of things, $10 million will go towards a more comprehensive prescribed burning program that will look to reduce fire fuels in high-risk areas.

Additionally, the $50-million Community Resiliency Investment program that was established last September was given a $10-million boost. The program helps fund municipalities and First Nations in reducing wildfire risks around their communities. Results from the first round of applications will be announced by the end of this month.

Donaldson said this increase in the budget is a long time coming.

“It was pointed out in 2003 in the Filmon Report that many of these kinds of strategies and actions on the land needed to take place and for reasons unknown to me, they didn't take place under the former government,” he said.

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