South Okanagan communities receive grant funding for wildfire mitigation work

Karla Kozakevich of the Regional District of Okanagan-SImilkameen, Chad Eneas of the Penticton Indian Band and Ravi Kahlon from the B.C. Ministry of Forests pose at a grant funding announcement on the Penticton Indian Band reserve on Monday morning. Shelby Thom / Global News

With another wildfire season on the horizon, B.C. government officials travelled to the South Okanagan on Monday morning to make a grant funding announcement for wildfire mitigation.

Ravi Kahlon, parliamentary secretary for forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, announced $9 million in funding to help 89 local governments and First Nations across B.C., including the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen and the Penticton Indian Band.

Overall, the B.C. government has committed $60 million to help local governments and First Nations reduce the risk of wildfire through the promotion and use of FireSmart principles.

Click to play video: 'Westbank First Nation has treated more than 400 hectares of forested land in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire'
Westbank First Nation has treated more than 400 hectares of forested land in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire

When asked if the province is committing more funding to wildfire mitigation, Kahlon said it’s the same amount that’s been provided in previous years.

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“The only major difference is that communities made it clear to us that they didn’t want to do the partnership, the sharing of these funds, because many communities couldn’t make that money available,” he said on Monday at the Penticton Indian Band Health Centre, where the announcement was made.

“We’ve changed our grant process to provide up to 100 per cent funding for communities as opposed to matching dollars that [have] been historically there in the past.”

Among the recipients is the Penticton Indian Band, which will use $150,000 to reduce the buildup of flammable material like wood debris, branches and undergrowth from high-risk areas near homes and crucial infrastructure.

Click to play video: 'The City of Vernon is leading the charge to pressure the government to change the way it mitigates against forest fires'
The City of Vernon is leading the charge to pressure the government to change the way it mitigates against forest fires

The Penticton Indian Band has been a recognized FireSmart community since 2016.

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“Caring for our lands, including the health of our forests, is an inherent right and responsibility we as Syilx-Okanagan people take seriously and are working with many levels of government ministries through agreements like this,” said Chief Chad Eneas.

“Fuel management supports us to protect the cultural and heritage value of our forests as well as ensure they can contribute to a sustainable economy for many generations.”

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen also received $140,000 to update an official community plan to incorporate FireSmart principles for keeping homes, neighbourhoods and communities safe.

Funding will also be spent on a FireSmart educator for public outreach and education, said Karla Kozakevich, regional district chair.

Kozakevich also said the funding would go towards “community FireSmart assessments for the upper Carmi and Apex neighbourhoods, creating a FireSmart webpage on the [Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen] website [and] cross-[training] for rural volunteer fire department members.”
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Click to play video: 'Can we stop wildfires sooner?'
Can we stop wildfires sooner?

Kahlon’s two-day visit will take him to Osoyoos, Summerland and Merritt to meet with representatives from multiple communities from the Kamloops and Southeast fire centres.

The 2017 and 2018 forest fire seasons were particularly troublesome for the South Okanagan-Similkameen region, with thousands of hectares burned and dozens of homes evacuated.

For a full list of communities receiving wildfire resiliency grant funding, click here.

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