Pay now or later: Cranbrook looks to log Crown land as preventative measure against wildfires
New study compares cost of creating buffer zone now to future cost of evacuations
Cranbrook, B.C., is highly susceptible to wildfires, and, after widespread evacuations last summer in the region, the city is looking at how to fireproof the community.
The city hasl hired fire ecologist Bob Gray to look at the different options and evaluate the cost of creating a buffer zone.
Gray argues that it's a case of paying now or paying later.
"There is an opportunity cost and then there is [the cost] associated with not treating it," Gray told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South.
The main area Gray is looking to is 33,000 hectares of Crown land about 25 kilometres to the southwest and 15 kilometres to the south, where, he says, the main fire risk is likely to come from.
Logging that area would bring in some revenue but still lead to about a $28 million net loss — even with $80 million to $90 million from selling the material.
Costs of waiting
An upfront prevention investment is far better than catastrophic economic losses afterwards, Gray said.
His study looked at the cost of evacuating the area if wildfires got out of hand.
"In a three day evacuation, we found it was about $51 million," he said.
That estimate includes moving costs, shelters and lost productivity from businesses closing.
"We are hoping that this fire season has been something different from past fire seasons in that there is a definite wake-up call," Gray said.
The problem, he said, is the quality of the wood in the land that would be treated.
"[It's] a fairly picked over landscape. It's been logged numerous times," he said. "It's just poor quality material that is good for bio-energy, but it's expensive to get it out of the wood."
Gray says there is potential revenue to the Crown from the stumpage and material but no purchasers are willing to pay much for it at the moment.
Despite that, Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt is convinced moving ahead with a pilot project of logging is the right move.
He has met with the provincial Ministry of Forests and, as a municipality, wants to set up a corporation to do the fire proofing, he told Daybreak South.
With files from Daybreak South.