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27th August 2018
The 2018 fire season roars on, as does the public debate. There appears to be growing consensus among wildfire experts such as BC's Dr. Lori Daniels and the US Forest Service's "megafire" expert, Paul Hessburg, that we need better forest management via prescribed burns combined with allowing small fires to run their natural course.

Ironically, a similar concept is often argued by BC's forest industry, especially with respect to interior BC. The argument goes something like: clear cutting mimics nature, so clear cutting reduces the risk of massive forest fires. Even a short flight over BC's interior shows that there has been a whole lot of clear-cutting going on. So why in 2017-2018 are we experiencing back-to-back record breaking fire seasons? Not enough clear-cutting? Seems unlikely.

The forest industry is a profit driven business; as it should be. So the industry clear-cuts where it is most economical and profitable, not where it does the most good for managing wildfire risk. Our smoke-filled skies makes it clear that current provincial legislation doesn't motivate (or even allow) the forest industry to create effective wildfire risk reduction. Other than a broad desire to not have their feedstock go up in smoke, modifying logging practices to ensure long term, large scale wildfire risk reduction is simply not part of the forest industry's current social mandate, nor integral to its economic model. But it should be.

In BC the key factor that fuels these massive and intensive wildfires is monolithic dense coniferous forest, which are also the most economically harvestable type of forest. Individual companies do not pay the full burden of the public cost of fighting forest fires, so industry profitability continues to favour large scale clear-cutting followed by monoculture replanting. It is a standard industry practice actually designed to create the most profitable but fire-prone forests! BC appears doomed to have our wildfire problem repeat itself over and over.

The inconvenient truth is that BC's wildfire issue cannot be addressed without significant changes to how BC regulates the forest industry. The political changes must occur first because we have to ensure industry economics align to favour harvest practices that help prevent massive, intensive fires.

Another inconvenient truth is that more and more people are moving into the forests, establishing growing communities, and demanding a different kind of forest management than was viable in the past. The argument that "100 years ago there where fires everywhere, clear cutting mimics fires, so therefore we should be able to clear cut everywhere" is simply not viable now that people are also everywhere in the forest, drinking water from the watersheds, and enjoying the natural lifestyle that being near a forest encourages.

Addressing the people aspect of the wildfire issue is part of the unique mission that the BC Coalition for Forestry Reform has taken on. Indeed it is the key thing that differentiates BCCFR from other ecological, watershed, and forest-watch organizations. These groups are doing important work for sure, but none of them are focused on the "hey we actually live here, so stop pretending we don't" message that BCCFR is promoting.

BCCFR believes the privilege of being able to benefit financially from the harvesting of B.C.'s public forests should come with the responsibility to work with wildfire experts accountable to each local community. As a society, we need to develop and implement a long-term and sustainable wildfire risk reduction strategies that reflect each community's needs and values.

Some communities may focus on minimizing wildfire risk at all costs. Other communities may accept and plan for higher wildfire risk so that watershed health, aesthetics, recreation, and tourism are not degraded by overly aggressive wildfire risk management. Simply put, a long-term wildfire risk reduction plan must be developed, implemented and monitored, with each local community's interests being considered along with the financial interests of the forest industry.

BY Jeff Brown on behalf of BCCFR


About the BCCFR: The BC Coalition for Forestry Reform is a grassroots alliance of BC communities advocating for culturally and economically sustainable forestry practices. We advocate for forest management based on long term, landscape level planning, a mandatory shared decision making process with local communities, careful incorporation of public needs and values, and full recognition of our forestsí non-timber values including water, wildlife, tourism and recreation.