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Projects underway in Northern B.C. to reduce community wildfire risk, enhance forest health

Forest Enhancement Society of BC funded 22 new community projects
Among other enhancement projects, funding grants from the Forest Enhancement Society will help reduce the risk of wildfires like this one near Bonney Lake. (East Pierce Fire and Rescue file photo)

Work is underway to enhance forest resilience and protect against the effects of wildfire and climate change in Northern B.C.

Through a provincial investment of $25 million, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC funded 22 new community projects, including one in the Omineca Region and one in the Skeena Region. This includes work to reduce wildfire risk, while enhancing wildlife habitat, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from slash pile burning, and supporting forest recreation and ecological resiliency.

Wildfire mitigation projects funded in the Skeena and the Omineca Regions include $3 million for the Chinook Community Forest to reduce fuel loading in areas heavily affected by mountain pine beetle, which has created a considerable fire risk to communities on the south side of Francois Lake and near Rose Lake.

Ken Neilsen, Chinook Community Forest general manager, said the funding will allow them to provide economic opportunities for six First Nations and other locals in the area, as well as provide fibre, that would otherwise have been lost, to local manufacturing facilities.

Another $1,401,666 will go to the McLeod Lake Mackenzie Community Forest for wildfire risk-reduction treatments along Highway 39, to create a safer exit corridor on the main road to and from Mackenzie.

“These newly-funded projects take a proactive approach to reduce the risks of wildfire and many will also improve wildlife habitat, increase the health of forests so they are more resilient to climate change, and use the leftover wood waste to make green energy. Achieving multiple objectives is good forest management and good value for money,” FESBC executive director Steve Kozuki said in a news release.

Work has already begun and all projects are expected to be complete by March 2024. To date, approved funding from the FESBC 2022-23 Funding Program totals $14 million. Additional applications through the FESBC portal are welcome and will be accepted until the $25-million fund has all been earmarked.

Since 2016, FESBC has supported more than 260 projects throughout B.C. Sixty-three of these projects have been led by First Nations and another 23 have significant First Nations’ involvement. FESBC projects have reduced wildfire risk in 120 communities and have created more than 2,100 full-time jobs, according to the Ministry of Forests.

B.C. is working toward near elimination of slash pile burning by 2030 and will divert materials away from slash piles and into bioproduct development. This will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the province.

The $25 million provided to FESBC is part of $359 million announced in Budget 2022 to protect British Columbians from wildfires, including $145 million to strengthen the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC.

FESBC is a Crown agency established in 2016 to advance the environmental and resource stewardship of the province’s forests by preventing wildfires and mitigating wildfire impacts, improving damaged or low-value forests, improving wildlife habitat, supporting the use of fibre from damaged or low-value forests, and treating forests to improve the management of greenhouse gases.