Wildfire prevention activity at Heritage Hills the last of a sure thing

It's still unknown if government-funded work will continue

Close to 120 hectares of forests in the region have been treated for wildfire prevention

Close to 120 hectares of forests in the region have been treated for wildfire prevention

A 10-hectare patch of forest bordering Heritage Hills is the next site in the region set to receive government-funded wildfire prevention work, but it’s unknown if there will be money available for future jobs.

Since 2009, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has treated a total of 120 hectares of forest with nearly $2 million in grants from senior levels of government.

The work has reduced the threat of wildfire at interface areas from Princeton to Oliver, yet still barely scratched the surface.

“There are still lots of areas that need to be done,” said John Davies, a forestry consultant hired by the RDOS to manage its wildfire prevention program.

Next on his to-do list is to secure grant money for a treatment prescription in Naramata Creek Park and carry out operations at two sites in the Bankier area west of Summerland and one near St. Andrews, west of Okanagan Falls.

The total cost of that work, which includes thinning the forest understorey and removing surface fuels, is pegged at $336,000. The RDOS is expected to cover 10 per cent of the cost.

The balance should come through the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative administered by the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The next round of funding is expected in November. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

The initiative, established in 2004, was last topped up in 2011 with $25 million.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has not yet committed to rebuilding the war chest.

Ministry spokesman Brennan Clarke confirmed that as of Sept. 7, the fund balance was $6.7 million, all of which is expected to be disbursed this winter.

He said the initiative is a “high-priority program” that will be assessed with all others during the B.C. government’s upcoming budget deliberations.

Davies said the RDOS has made a dent in the interface wildfire risk to some of its members communities, but such a program needs to be “a long-term venture.”

He also noted that although no operational work has occurred since 2011 while the RDOS awaited reimbursement for other jobs, the program has so far created 72 person-months of employment and helped keep 12 forestry companies in business. The work on the interface area bordering Heritage Hills on the east side of Skaha Lake is expected to begin later this fall, said Davies, who is still cleaning up the last few regulatory details.

He said no such work is carried out until it’s been previewed for the public, in this case a homeowners’ group at Heritage Hills.