Shortened air-tanker contracts not a concern, forestry officials say
Government based decision on analysis that shows 96 per cent of fires happen in May, June and July
The Alberta government plans to rely on resources from other provinces if air-tanker companies turn down an offer to extend their newly truncated contracts when they run out in August.
Both Air Spray and Conair say their contracts have been cut by 30 days this year, due to budget constraints. Their contracts will run out in mid-August.
MLAs reviewing the budget estimates Thursday were told the decision to shorten the contracts was based on an analysis that shows 96 per cent of fires happen in May, June and July.
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Bruce Mayer, an assistant deputy minister with the department of agriculture and forestry, said officials watch the weather and the number of fires closely and make a decision early on whether to extend contracts.
"If a company chooses not to continue with us and have another contract somewhere else, we still have partnerships with other jurisdictions within Canada where we can import air tanker resources," Mayer said.
Executives with Conair and Air Spray have raised concerns over the shortened contracts. Paul Lane, the vice-president of Air Spray, said tankers may not be available after the agreement expires in mid-August.
Mayer confirmed he has heard those concerns. He said the ministry is discussing ways the two companies can have their out-of-pocket costs covered.
Todd Loewen, the Wildrose MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky, challenged Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier on the $86 million set aside for wildfire suppression in the 2016 budget. The government budgeted more than $470 million last year.
Deputy minister Bev Yee told MLAs the money in 2016 represents base funding used for training, opening fire towers and tanker bases, and early monitoring and detection. Funding to fight fires comes out of other funds and emergency allocations through the treasury board.
She said every province funds wildfire fighting this way, since it is impossible to forecast how many fires will break out in a season.
Loewen wanted to know why the ministry didn't instead use a 10-year average of $130 million.
Carlier said the $86 million has been adequate in the past.
"There's no reason to think that those numbers wouldn't work as base for this year," he said.