A B.C. rancher is speaking out about land and livestock owners staying behind to fight the wildfires coming close to their livelihood.
“One of the things they have is that lay of the land and knowing what’s actually happening out there,” B.C. Cattlemen’s Association president Kevin Boon told Global News.
He said historically, the BC Wildfire Service has relied on ranchers as some of the first responders available. In addition to knowledge and incentive, they frequently own the heavy equipment and water trucks needed in a forest fire, he said.
However, in the past decade and a half, Boon said things have changed, with the government becoming more bureaucratic and less tolerant of the “DIY response strategy.”
“In order to be a part of the system it takes a lot of certification and it takes a bunch of pre-qualifications,” Boon said.
But those are credentials ranchers say are earned through the years on the land, and while the issue has strained relations with Victoria this summer, there are some encouraging signs.
Boon says B.C.’s ranchers will now have a voice inside wildfire command centres and won’t be prosecuted for fighting new fires, provided they communicate with officials.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said earlier this summer that when anyone is under an evacuation order they need to leave immediately and he’s not backing down from that position.
“Evacuation orders are based on the advice of what is safe for protecting people and safe for firefighters,” he said. “That is always the first principle. It is about protecting people.”
Boon says he thinks some of the summer’s fires could have been contained earlier if ranchers had been given clear directions from the government.
But he is quick to say ranchers should only help fight fires if they are experienced and know that land very well.
“The able-bodied and those that have an ability should be able to protect their land,” he said.