Baldrey: B.C. wildfires a sign of larger trouble

The weather is going to cost B.C. taxpayers dearly this year, says Keith Baldrey.
The weather is going to cost B.C. taxpayers dearly this year, says Keith Baldrey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

It looks like the weather is going to cost B.C. taxpayers dearly this year, but the provincial government is still only taking baby steps when it comes to dealing with what appears to be the chaotic effects of changes in climate patterns.

We may be on our way to a record forest fire season, rain levels have dropped significantly and heat records are being set by the dozens. The combination of a hot, dry forest combined with what could be serious water shortages sets the stage for an explosive summer. An average year will see the government spend about $100 million fighting forest fires, even though the annual budgeted amount is set at about $63 million. But with the two hottest months still to come for the most part, we’ve already passed that budget figure. Costs could easily approach a half billion dollars before the fire season is over, and that doesn’t include related costs.

READ MORE: Complete coverage of wildfires burning in B.C.

Premier Christy Clark, who is locked into getting the liquefied natural gas industry to set up shop in this province, at least provided a couple of clues recently that perhaps taking a closer look at weather patterns is inching up one of her priority lists. Each year she sends “mandate letters” to her cabinet ministers, outlining the expectations for the year ahead. Mostly, they are about balancing the budget and running an efficient operation, the usual things.

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But two ministers got special instructions this year. Forests and Lands Minister Steve Thomson is to analyze the impact of lower snowpacks and retreating glaciers on the province’s forests, and Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick is to perform a similar task, and make recommendations on how best to protect farmland.

Lower snowpacks? Retreating glaciers? Growing drought conditions? Water shortages? Temperatures hitting record highs? At least the government appears to have woken up to the fact that something unusual is going on. But the impact of these climate changes is not felt simply in the forests, and doesn’t end with the end of the forest fire season.

Stream and lake temperatures will likely continue to rise, with potentially devastating results for fish and local ecosystems. We can expect more flooding, and violent storms may result in landslides or the destabilization of land masses.

At the very least, this all translates into making a major hit on the provincial economy, which is reason alone for the government to start looking at doing more than simply drafting an analysis or two. I don’t offer any magical suggestions, but perhaps more resources should be allocated to start figuring out ways to deal with what could be a catastrophe in the waiting.

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