City seeking wildfire funds

With spring arriving in a big way in the Okanagan, the city is preparing for fire season, and new budget increases from the province could help.

Forest fuel mitigation work has been ongoing in East Kelowna for the past few weeks, where the province plans to spend $1.6 million over three years removing fuels from the Crown land forested area near Myra Canyon.

While Crown land wildfire mitigation projects are handled by the province through the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, the City of Kelowna has applied for additional provincial funding for work within city limits, under the Community Resiliency Investment program that was established last September. An additional $10 million was recently added to the $50 million program in the 2019 budget.

Andrew Hunsberger, City of Kelowna urban forestry supervisor, says he's confident the city will receive the $100,000 maximum they've applied for. Half of that will be used for reducing wildfire fuels in the forested area between Clifton and Glenmore roads, where a large wildfire quickly took off last July.

“That was identified as a high-priority area that we need to deal with,” Hunsberger said. “We got really lucky (last July) in that we had aircraft in the area working on all these other fires ... if we didn't have access to helicopters and airtankers, that could have been a different story.”

While the city plans to use $50,000 of the CRI funding in the area, Hunsberger says it will take closer to $300,000 to fully treat the entire area, and they'll be applying for additional funding in subsequent years.

The other half of the funding will go towards wildfire policy making and planning for future developments, on a city-wide scale.

“We've made mistakes in the past the way we've developed out some of these neighbourhoods, as far as narrow roads into neighbourhoods and putting houses on the edge of steep slopes and having one access road in and out of an area,” Hunsberger said.

While the province has capped a community's annual CRI funding at $100,000, Hunsberger hopes that will increase in the future, as Kelowna has unique needs that FESBC funding can't be applied to.

“For us, we do have a fair bit of forested land within the city limits which we can't use with that funding,” Hunsberger said.

“Technically we got $1.6 million plus, hopefully, another $100,000 this year, so that's way more than we've ever had access to, so that's wonderful ... I think when (the province) were doing this they didn't really realize that cities like us still have a fair bit of (forested) land within the city limits.”

The City of Kelowna has been mitigating wildfire risk around the city for the past 15 years, but as development encroaches farther into new forested areas, new high-priority areas have been identified.

The province has said they'll make final decisions on this year's CRI funding by the end of the month.

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