Resilience and “whole-of-society” approach are clear priorities to address emerging wildfire reality in B.C.

 

Victoria, B.C. lək̓ʷəŋən territory: British Columbia needs to adopt a “whole-of-society” approach to advance wildfire resilience, say the authors of an investigation into the current state of wildfire prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery in the province.

“The scale of the challenge we face as a society requires a response of similar magnitude,” said Doug Donaldson, report co-author and former B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “We know that concern is mounting across society when it comes to the threat and impacts of wildfires.”

Wildfires set provincial records in four of the last six years, with more than six million hectares burned, more than 200,000 people displaced, and nearly $3 billion spent in direct forest firefighting in 2017, 2018, 2021, and 2023 combined. The 2024 wildfire season is already off to a very early start with residents under evacuation order or alert in communities in northeast, northwest, and central B.C.

Released today, Learning to Live with Fire: State of Wildfire in B.C.—Policy, Programs & Priorities is the first publication from the new POLIS Wildfire Resilience Project at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies.

“Our analysis revealed a number of actions that don’t require further study that can be initiated and expanded on right now,” said Andrea Barnett, co-author and analyst at the POLIS Wildfire Resilience Project. “But it also revealed the need for a cross-cutting approach to address the wildfire challenge. The provincial government, Indigenous governments, federal and local governments, industry, researchers, and civil society are all integral to overall success.”

Actions that can be acted upon immediately include:

  • Increasing the scale of current programs for fuel management, including prescribed fire and cultural fire.
  • Harnessing the forest industry’s harvesting power to reduce fuels on the landscape.
  • Promoting innovative, low-cost fuel management treatments.
  • Expanding local wildfire governance initiatives.

With this primer, the authors focused on understanding and untangling the current policy and governance landscape in B.C. as it relates to wildfire. They explored the new wildland fire reality, highlighted implications for communities and ecosystems, and detailed current approaches to wildland fire management by taking a deep dive into governance, legislation, policies, and science.

“Our house is quite literally on fire, which is why resilience—the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop—is vital,” said co-author Oliver M. Brandes, co-director of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and project lead at the Wildfire Resilience Project. “What we do today will be the best insurance against what will certainly be more dangerous fires tomorrow. To create lasting solutions, we need to focus on the nexus of resilience and governance. We can’t delineate between the social and the ecological. It’s all connected.”

“Another important finding is the need for a whole-of-government provincial landscape resilience strategy,” said Doug Donaldson, who is a senior analyst at the POLIS Wildfire Resilience Project. “Such a strategy will help the provincial government better address the new wildfire reality, including the immediate challenges, identifying the leadership needed, and bringing broader changes to ensure wildfire resilience across B.C. It will be an important first step towards a ‘whole-of-society’ approach.”

— 30 —

Media contacts

Shayla Auld (POLIS Wildfire Resilience Project) at 778-922-2709 or [email protected]

Download report

 

About the POLIS Wildfire Resilience Project

The POLIS Wildfire Resilience Project an action-based, interdisciplinary research team at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies. We offer practical solutions to advance wildfire resilience in British Columbia. As part of an international network, we focus on the nexus of resilience and governance, working with all levels of government, Indigenous nations, local communities, industry, experts, researchers, and civil society to offer new perspectives, innovative ideas, and practical solutions. The goal of the Wildfire Resilience Project is to create a more secure future for communities and ecosystems by promoting a wildfire regime that lies within nature’s limits and reduces catastrophic wildfires. Our work is rooted in the principles of ecological governance and resilience with a firm goal of strengthening watershed security. Over the coming years, we will imagine and promote a new B.C. wildfire management and governance regime that helps position B.C. as a leader in wildfire resilience.