WHEREAS the Prairie Protection Act Section 7(1) places the responsibility for fighting and controlling all fires within the boundaries of the municipality on the municipal district, this includes occupied public lands; and
WHEREAS occupied public lands are often in areas with limited access, and municipal fire fighting units cannot effectively get to the site of forest fires and grass fires for control or extinguishment; and
WHEREAS Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has the fire fighting resources to control or extinguish forest and grass fires in remote and topographically challenging terrain; and
WHEREAS municipal fire departments have the fire fighting resources to control or extinguish structural fires safely and provide immediate emergency response services;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Alberta’s Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request that Alberta Sustainable Resource Development amend the Forest and Prairie Protection Act Section 7(1) by excluding fighting and controlling non-structural fires within occupied public lands from the responsibility of municipalities.
Occupied public lands are under the control of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. Lease holders are required to allow access to these properties. Accidental, non-structural fires occur when recreational or other users fail to extinguish fires or dispose of cigar/cigarette butts properly and forest fire or grass fire control and extinguishing services are required.
Occupied public lands are often in areas with limited access so the fires cannot be reached effectively with traditional municipal firefighting equipment. As Sustainable Resource Development owns and has access through private contractors to equipment and fire fighting resources to control and extinguish non-structural fires in remote and topographically challenging locations the Forest and Prairie Protection Act Section 7(1) should exclude fighting and controlling non-structural fires on occupied public lands from the responsibility of the municipal district.
Resolution 8-09S: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request Alberta Sustainable Resource Development to amend the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, Section 7(1), by excluding fighting and controlling fires within occupied public lands from the responsibility of municipalities.
Sustainable Resource Development:
Protecting human lives and community safety are Alberta Sustainable Resource Development’s top priorities in fighting wildfires.
The Forest and Prairie Protection Act establishes Sustainable Resource Development as the wildfire authority within the Forest Protection Area. Outside this area, the Act establishes municipalities as the wildfire authority. The department is equipped to suppress wildfires within the Forest Protection Area, but does not have the financial resources, equipment, or manpower to suppress all wildfires outside the area.
The department is prepared to assist municipalities with wildfire suppression outside the Forest Protection Area, on a full cost-recovery basis. Sustainable Resource Development has mutual aid agreements with most municipalities outside the Forest Protection Area. These agreements allow agencies to assist one another on a full cost-recovery basis.
If a responsible party can be identified for starting the fire, the department expects the municipality to recover firefighting costs from that party.
If a responsible party is not identified, the department may reimburse municipalities for firefighting costs on unoccupied public land outside the Forest Protection Area. As well, the department, in partnership with Municipal Affairs, coordinates the Municipal Wildfire Assistance Program, which assists municipalities outside the Forest Protection Area in covering their extraordinary wildfire firefighting costs.
In its response to this resolution, the Government of Alberta claimed that it does not have the financial resources, equipment or manpower to fight nonstructural fires on occupied public lands. However, the crux of this resolution is that municipalities also do not have the appropriate resources and equipment to fight these fires. The notion that the municipality “may” be reimbursed for costs is insufficient. The AAMDC raised this issue at a meeting with then Minister Mel Knight, who noted that effective cooperation and coordination between SRD and municipalities is the most important aspect of fighting these types of fires. He advised that municipalities have historically received financial support from Treasury Board when they faced significant bills for firefighting assistance from SRD. Beyond this type of cooperation and financial assistance, the Minister was not prepared to seek changes at that time. The AAMDC raised this issue again at a recent meeting with the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development who indicated that these legislative amendments are not presently on the Government of Alberta’s agenda. The AAMDC will continue to advocate on this issue.