Back in the middle of the 2003 firestorm then Forests Minister Mike DeJong promised a return to more prescribed burning to mitigate the kinds of wildfires and destruction he was seeing under his watch. But his word fell against regulatory obstacles, institutional inertia and the public’s refusal to accept some artificial smoke as part of our forest management regime.
Very little prescribed burning got done since on the province’s public land. Interestingly our national parks through their own foresight and determination often exceeded hectares treated provincially. Now smoke is driving the forest management conversation again.
After a second summer of weeks of oppressive smoke settling on the province—and most importantly perhaps, a pall that covered the urban parts as well—our government is now rethinking things related to smoke and fire. It should include returning to prescribed burning.
At this month’s Union of BC Municipalities annual convention Premier John Horgan asked delegates for ideas to mitigate the impacts of the many more run-away fire seasons we can expect due to climate change and conditions on the landscape.
We would like to propose returning to prescribe burning since it can play a role in reducing fuels and widespread destruction. After recent events the public is likely to be more accepting of the practice. Especially when it comes to better taking the future into account by calculating how some smoke now might be better than far worse smoke later.
We would also add how prescribed burning can lead to a more competent contract fire suppression sector since setting and managing controlled burns is a good place to teach and practice fire-fighting skills. This is something important to our members who face challenges recruiting and retaining skilled fire crews.
But the existing institutional landscape, the regulatory environment and their conventions will resist change as they have before. They will be aided also by the loss of controlled burn experience and expertise during the decades-long hiatus on prescribed burning.
Nevertheless, the Premier is proposing the right thinking at a time when there is a groundswell of support for better forest and fire management from across the province. That would include the attention of our sometimes parochial urban friends who are just beginning to get it about how we will all be living with wildfire and climate change for some time in B.C.
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Lighting fires is also a good place to learn how to put them out
Seasonal reforestation workers need to earn more as part of a major recalibration of the silviculture sector’s pricing and wage structure. It wasn’t hard for employers to come to agreement on this at last week’s WFCA annual business and market summit coinciding with the beginning of the bidding and negotiating tournament for next year’s nursery and planting work.
Planting employers reported they were often short-handed during this year’s field season with fewer prospective workers applying and many of the trainees failing to catch on as well as in previous seasons. Veterans also quit planting at higher rates for easier and better paying jobs in other parts of the economy.
Nursery owners report similar problems with recruitment and retention. With average planting piece work rates stagnate, and not coming close to keeping pace with inflation, recent minimum wage increases have helped expose weaknesses in how workers are being paid for their productivity.
But as far as keeping up with a rising minimum wage was concerned, employers agreed far more substantive increases are needed so that workers will be well motivated by properly-priced piece work offerings or improved hourly earnings. Planting contractors are also looking at eliminating charging workers camp and hotel costs and investing more in effective training.
Meanwhile other pressures such as rising employer contributions for health care and CPP combined with rising fuel, food and other price determinants indicate all reforestation costs will have to rise substantially to make up for lost ground and to keep up with the new economy and reforestation demand.
Contractors and producers have some leverage in the market now as the provincial reforestation program continues to expand for at least the next three years. With the coming shift in supply and demand they have a chance now to get better prices and to offer higher earnings. A full report from the market summit on the state of the sector is due later this month.