+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 7-23F

Strategy for Management of Wildland Fires Outside Forest Protection Area

Date:
November 8, 2023
Expiry Date:
December 1, 2026
Active Status:
Active
Sponsors:
Parkland County
District:
3 - Pembina River
Year:
2023
Convention:
Fall
Category:
Emergency Services
Status:
Intent Not Met
Vote Results:
Carried as Amended
Preamble:

WHEREAS Alberta Forestry and Parks is the principal agency responsible for wildfire management in the Forest Protection Area (FPA); and

WHEREAS municipalities located outside the FPA are responsible for the management of wildfires as per Section 7(1) of the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, including all financial costs of suppression; and

WHEREAS wildfire seasons are growing increasingly longer and more intense, placing a significant strain on provincial and municipal wildfire resources; and

WHEREAS Alberta Forestry and Parks allocates priority to wildfire suppression efforts within the FPA, which can reduce or eliminate the allocation of wildfire suppression resources to regions outside the FPA during active fire seasons; and

WHEREAS wildfire suppression is a resource-intensive activity that requires specialized resources to effectively manage and suppress wildfires;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) engage with the Government of Alberta (GOA), Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis), and the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) to develop a long-term strategy for the resourcing and management of wildland fire events outside the Forest Protection Area (FPA); and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA collaborate with ABmunis, the AFCA, and the GOA to establish a working group consisting of municipal and provincial subject matter experts, elected officials, and senior municipal administrators to develop a long-term strategy for wildfire management outside the FPA; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED THAT the RMA advocate that the GOA allocate additional funding to train more rotary wing pilots in bucketing and strategically place these bucketing resources inside and outside the FPA.

Member Background:

Alberta’s wildland fire season is starting earlier, lasting longer, and affecting larger areas of Alberta than we have seen in the past. This increase in wildfire activity has been putting significant strain on Alberta’s fire resources, both within and outside Alberta’s Forest Protection Area (FPA).

Many municipalities located outside the FPA have seen an increase in wildfire activity, with several non-FPA municipalities experiencing multiple large wildfire events in recent years. While the Ministry of Forestry and Parks is the lead agency responsible for management and suppression of wildfires within the (FPA), Section 7(1) of the Forest and Prairie Protection Act assigns responsibility for the management and suppression of wildfires outside the FPA to the municipality. Many municipalities outside Alberta’s FPA operate with resource and budgetary limitations that impact their ability to sustain long-term action on wildfire events. Managing large wildfire events using paid-on-call or volunteer firefighters is not sustainable and will further contribute to the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges in Alberta’s rural fire service.

While Alberta Wildfire will provide mutual aid assistance to non-FPA municipalities, this is based on resource availability as well as current and forecasted fire conditions within the FPA. During periods of high fire activity or danger within the FPA, the availability of critical, specially trained wildfire suppression crew resources can be a challenge. During Alberta’s 2023 Wildfire Season, provincial resources were not available to provide the support needed by municipalities; this includes technical specialists such as fire behaviour analysts as well as access to specialized wildland firefighting unit crews, heavy equipment groups, and incident management and field supervision (division supervisors, task force/strike team leaders) with adequate wildland fire line leadership experience to support safe tactical operations.

In 2022, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta passed resolution 6-22F in relation to the financial burden of providing emergency response services on crown lands. While not directly related, it does connect to the financial impacts of providing emergency response services (including fire suppression) on provincial lands.

In 2023, the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association passed resolution 2023-04 to work collaboratively with appropriate government ministries, Alberta Municipalities, and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta to develop a long-term strategy for the management of large wildland fires outside the FPA.

This issue is not one isolated to one singular area of the province, and includes other key stakeholders such as:

  • Alberta Wildfire
  • FireSmart Alberta
  • Alberta Emergency Management Agency
  • Alberta Municipalities
  • Alberta Fire Chiefs Association
  • Stoney Nakoda-Tsuut’ina Tribal Council
  • Blackfoot Confederacy
  • Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations
  • Metis Nation of Alberta

The issue of wildland fire management is a global issue, with extensive research and committee work occurring at the national and international levels to address the problem. There are many relevant sources of supporting information, including:

Canada’s overburdened firefighters aren’t getting enough support:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canadas-overburdened-firefighters-arent-getting-enough-support/

The Report of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission:

https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/wfmmc-final-report-09-2023.pdf

Resilience Strategies for Wildfire:
https://www.c2es.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/resilience-strategies-for-wildfire.pdf

 

Roadmap for Wildfire Resilience: How to Get There from Here:

https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/who-we-are/how-we-work/policy/wildfire-resilience-policy-roadmap/

Provincially, there is a definite and time sensitive need to take immediate action. Possible strategies that may be considered include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased funding and support for FireSmart programming across Alberta, including increased accessibility to non-FPA municipalities that have historically faced challenges in accessing FireSmart grant funding opportunities,
  • Provincial funding for the establishment and ongoing operation of seasonal wildfire suppression crew resources, operated by non-FPA municipalities in strategic, wildfire prone areas across Alberta,
  • The establishment of an advisory committee comprised of key stakeholders to guide the development of a long-term, sustainable strategy to mitigate wildfire risk and support effective management of large wildfires outside the forest protection area.

As wildfire seasons across Alberta grow in length and intensity, they are placing a substantial drain on municipal resources and budgets. Action is necessary to ensure Alberta’s municipalities are well positioned to protect Albertans from the increasing threat of wildfire.

RMA Background:

RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.

Government Response:

Alberta Environment and Protected Areas

Sub-regional caribou plans aim to maintain a working landscape that can support the economic, recreational, and traditional land-use values of multiple users while improving habitat outcomes for caribou recovery.

As part of caribou sub-regional planning, Environment and Protected Areas is considering options to incorporate wildfire risk mitigation as part of management approaches in a sub-region. In addition, caribou sub-regional plans for the Bistcho Lake and Cold Lake sub-regions recognize the importance of maintaining the riparian areas around waterways and the benefits they provide, including flood mitigation.

Municipal Affairs

Forestry and Parks is responsible for wildland fire fighting in the FPA. For wildfires outside the FPA, local authorities retain responsibility but may request mutual aid from Forestry and Parks for technical assistance or resources. Each municipality is responsible for determining the level of fire service appropriate for its community.

Alberta does not have legislation related to the minimum staffing of fire apparatus based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments. Municipalities are responsible for adopting NFPA standards if they so choose.

  • Municipal Affairs provides $500,000 annually through the Fire Services Training Program Grant to Alberta fire departments for the purpose of training their members. This year’s applications for the grant closed on September 30, 2023.

Municipal Affairs recognizes all municipalities may choose to develop a Level of Service document for their fire services that aligns with a municipality’s Community Risk Assessment.

  • A Community Risk Assessment and subsequent Level of Service document, provides a guideline for services without the complications, red tape, and additional costs that a provincewide legislated standard would create. It would also be tailored to the municipality, its needs, and available resources.
  • The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association facilitates the Community Risk Assessment and Level of Service document program in Alberta and has resources available for municipalities looking to a Level of Service document.

Forestry and Parks works in partnership with Public Safety and Emergency Services, through the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, to manage and enhance the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) program in Alberta. The program includes:

  • operating guidelines for sharing resources to help fight wildfires in a WUI outside the FPA of Alberta;
  • reimbursement processes for personnel, apparatus, and specialty equipment; and establishes minimum standards for apparatus, training, and experience of personnel pre-deployment.

Alberta recognizes the importance of the issues related to wildfires and welcomes further discussion to understand the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Forestry and Parks

Thank you for your recent letter regarding Rural Municipalities of Alberta resolution 7-23F Strategy for Management of Wildland Fires Outside Forest Protection Area. I appreciate the opportunity to respond. This past wildfire season was Alberta’s worst on record. Extreme weather conditions resulted in early and severe wildfire activity, and these warm, dry, and windy conditions persisted for much of the summer. Since January, more than 2.2 million hectares of Alberta’s forested lands have burned inside the Forest Protection Area. This number is more than 10 times higher than the five-year average, and surpasses the previous record for most area burnt, which was 1.3 million hectares in 1981. Even in this unprecedented year, Forestry and Parks also responded to over 75 priority mutual aid wildfires outside the Forest Protection Area supporting municipalities and other agencies in helping protect Albertans and their communities.

Forestry and Parks is in support of your initiative to develop a long-term strategy for wildfire management outside the Forest Protection Area and looks forward to contributing to a working group consisting of municipal and provincial subject matter experts, elected officials, and senior municipal administrators. To begin the process of setting up a working relationship, please contact Bernie Schmitte, Acting Executive Director of Wildfire Management Branch, Forestry and Parks, at 780-422-7356 or bernie.schmitte@gov.ab.ca, to discuss my department’s representatives and your proposed next steps.

Wildfire management and the operating environment are rapidly changing and increasingly complex. The foundation of our practices remains rooted in firefighter safety and a high state of readiness while being prepared to promptly respond to wildfires to minimize injuries, losses, and damages. Wildfire resiliency can be achieved through collective engagement of the public, communities, industries, and partners in preventing unwanted fire, reducing risk, and mitigating impacts when wildfires occur.

In Alberta more than 50 communities were impacted by the wildfires. Throughout this crisis, government’s primary concern was keeping communities and Albertans safe. We need for an all-of-society approach to wildfire prevention and mitigation. Every Albertan must play their part to protect our communities from wildfire. Partners must work together well in advance of the fire season to prevent human caused fires; make people aware of the risks; prepare for a combined response; and undertake proactive actions to modify fuels and structures so that wildfire will not transfer from landscape fuels to the values at risk. Thank you for your continued leadership to ensure the interests of rural Alberta municipalities are effectively represented. I look forward to our respective organizations continuing to collaborate on solutions for all Albertans.

Development:

Wildfire risk is increasing rapidly, and the Government of Alberta (GOA) must take all steps necessary to ensure the safety of all areas of the province. Coordination of resources outside of FPAs is essential in supporting the safety of communities and stopping the spread of wildfires. While the response from Alberta Municipal Affairs summarizes current provincial programs and municipal resources related to wildfire preparation, it does not acknowledge the resolution request for the development of a unified strategy among relevant provincial ministries and stakeholders. The response itself demonstrates the complex and multi-faceted nature of wildfire mitigation and response in the province.

RMA appreciates the commitment from Alberta Forestry and Parks to participate on RMA’s Wildfire Working Group that will provide tangible solutions for the management of wildfires outside of FPAs. The success of RMA’s Wildfire Working Group will depend on positive collaboration from all relevant ministries, and having Alberta Forestry and Parks commitment is a great step in the right direction

RMA fully agrees with Alberta Forestry and Parks that all partners must work together, well in advance of fire season, to ensure the best possible outcomes. It is essential that all relevant ministries work together to create long-term strategies and tangible solutions for the management of wildfires outside of FPAs.

Further, it is essential that adequate funding is allocated for the training of rotary wing pilots in bucketing, especially in areas outside of FPAs.

RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will revisit the status as the working group’s work progresses.

Provincial Ministries:
Agriculture and Forestry,
Environment and Parks,
Municipal Affairs
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