Canada — More than 400 wildfires continued to burn across B.C. Wednesday, burning up with them the remainder of the smallest annual forest firefighting budget in B.C. in a decade.
In 2001, the NDP government allocated $85.7 million dollars to fight forest fires in B.C. and since then the forest firefighting budget had not dropped below $55.4 million — where it was from 2002 to 2005.
But this year, the BC Liberal government allotted $51.7 million to fight forest fires — a ten-year low.
On Wednesday, B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen confirmed his government had already surpassed their annual forest firefighting budget, putting the current cost at $56.5 million and counting.
Gwen Eamer, a provincial wildfire information officer, said that at noon Wednesday, twelve new fires had been sparked across the province in the previous twelve hours, offering little hope that the battle against B.C.s wildfires — and their rising costs — was nearing an end.
Last year, the provincial government allocated $61.7 million dollars for forest firefighting but ended up spending more than six times that at $382.1 million.
Nonetheless, the provincial government cut their forest-firefighting funding this year by approximately 20 per cent.
Citing the unpredictability of forest-fire seasons before they begin, Hansen said the provincial government budgets only for the minimum cost of getting firefighting resources in place and then pours as much money into firefighting as the season requires.
We have the authority to spend as much as necessary without a vote of the legislature, said Hansen. The base costs that we have are for things like the contracts we put in place to have forest firefighters and equipment on standby even if there wasnt a single fire to break out.
NDP Forests and Range Critic Norm Macdonald claimed that the government has intentionally underfunded forest firefighting budgets every year since 2005 as a way to balance its books while hiding real and wholly predictable costs.
Theres a consistent inaccuracy in budgeting, he said. As we pass again the budgeted amounts for fire, its again a number that has not proven in any way to be a real number.
Addressing Hansen directly, Macdonald said: The minister knew this wasnt going to be an accurate number, so put in the real number. Put it in there and lets hope we have a season where we dont need it.
Macdonald said that statements from the governments own Ministry of Forests and Range predicting worsening fire seasons, coupled with the governments total underbudgeting of forest fire costs by $896 million since 2002, shows that the government is not taking the real and rising costs of forest fires seriously.
Hansen said that in 2009 the province had spent $121 million on forest firefighting by August 3rd, indicating that by this time last year, the provincial government had already doubled an annual budget $10 million greater than what they then allocated for this year.