Comment: Pay now for natural asset protection, or pay much later

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Funding for natural resource management has led to some of BC’s worst fire seasons and catastrophic flooding

Sustained funding for ecosystem restoration in British Columbia’s forests and waterways could generate billions of dollars in savings over time.

Systematic funding for natural resource management has given exactly what you would expect: some of the worst fire seasons in British Columbia history have been in the past five years, along with two flood seasons. equally catastrophic.

The share of the provincial government budget devoted to the management of renewable natural resources has declined by about 75% over the past 30 years, with obvious consequences: people have been evicted from their homes, over a million farm animals killed, hundreds of people smoke-related illnesses and record low populations of fish and wildlife.

Rainbow trout runs in the interior of British Columbia are on the verge of extinction, kokanee salmon have suffered massive population declines, and many chinook, coho and sockeye runs are considered to be. threatened or endangered.

And it’s not like we don’t know it’s going to happen.

The 2017 BC Flood and Wildland Fire Review and its recommendations were intended to inform government actions ahead of the 2018 flood and wildfire seasons.

But this was not the first time that BC had been warned of a future disaster and offered solutions. The government has had nearly two decades to review the Filmon report, which is full of recommendations on strategic logging and fuel reduction.

An aggressive program of controlled burns and fuel mitigation would likely have saved billions of dollars in firefighting and salvage costs. Wetland restoration and changes to logging and road density may well have cut the flood damage bill by billions of dollars this fall.

Then as now, municipal governments were relied on to foot the bill for improvements to Crown land to protect against fires and maintain wetlands and flood protection. Few people can afford to do either.

The 2018 report puts the cost of treating moderate to high risk forests at $ 6.7 billion. Abbotsford seawall repairs alone were estimated at $ 400 million last year, perhaps much more now, while orphaned dikes in rural British Columbia need $ 865 million. dollars in repairs.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to guess at the cost of doing nothing, do we? The Bank of Montreal estimates that the cost of reclamation in Abbotsford just after the atmospheric river event in November will exceed $ 7.5 billion.

The economic impact of a regional flood on the Lower Mainland could reach $ 30 billion.

Without a rapid shift in priorities, we will continue to spend orders of magnitude more on recovery than we would to restore the natural assets and infrastructure that protect us.

The Fraser River Delta and South Okanagan containment and drainage plans set aside 70-85% of historic wetlands, losing the environmental services they provide.

A 2018 Insurance Bureau of Canada report called for the protection and restoration of remaining wetlands in populated areas of Canada, as water damage is one of the biggest threats to their industry.

The provincial government is committed to creating a Watershed Safety Fund and Strategy as well as a “Together for Wildlife,” a provincial strategy to improve wildlife and habitat management that could provide long-term sustainable funding for projects that combine forest management, wetland restoration and wildlife management in a coordinated manner.

Stable and dedicated funding is essential to support local decision-making and to encourage long-term planning and local solutions needed to respond to changing watershed conditions brought about by climate change.

British Columbia provided $ 27 million for the one-year Healthy Watersheds initiative.

The Real Estate Foundation of BC administers over 100 projects across the province through HWI, employing 700 people to restore watersheds, build local capacity and strengthen relationships with First Nations. Funding for these projects will end in the coming weeks and months.

This work helps mitigate future flooding, improve water quality, support fish and wildlife populations, and demonstrate reconciliation in action.

While the provincial government has committed to putting in place a watershed security fund and strategy ahead of the last election, none of these have been implemented. The projects we desperately need are just disappearing.

It is time for the provincial government to implement its watershed security fund and strategy and, more importantly, for the federal government to allocate sustainable funding for watershed security as part of its post-recovery plan. grim for British Columbia.

Jesse Zeman is the Executive Director of the BC Wildlife Federation. Neil Fletcher is the Director of Conservation Stewardship.


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