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Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Oneil Carlier was in Whitecourt for a couple of days last week to announce regulation changes to the Forest and Prairie Protection Act. On Thursday, March 30, Carlier joined Hilltop High School students at the Allan & Jean Millar Centre for a Forestry Career Day event which featured numerous different forestry-related presentations.
Carlier spoke with students in grades nine to12 and said, “They were asking a lot questions around tree planting. I have a daughter and a son who have planted trees during the summer and picked pine cones for the industry in the winter. It’s hard work. It’s a young person’s job but it’s good money, as well.”
Job-wise, Carlier talked about the sustainability of Alberta’s forests and how it can be a very good career choice. “I think one of the best things about a job in forestry in Whitecourt is that you can have a really good mortgage-paying-type job and live in the community you grew up in. That’s pretty important.”
As for the regulation changes, Carlier said that as Albertans we all need to do a bit more. “It’s a sad fact in Alberta that 70 per cent of wildfires are caused by humans and, as such, are also 100 per cent preventable.” Last fall, legislation was passed to “help deter unsafe behaviour and give our wildland firefighters more tools to keep Albertans and their communities safe. These strengthened regulations send a clear message that we all share a responsibility to help prevent wildfires.”
The enhancements which take effect immediately include new penalties for infractions such as leaving a campfire unattended or burning without a permit, restrictions on the use of fireworks or exploding targets, and improvements to flammable debris disposal. As of May 1, officers will be authorized to issue tickets and, depending on the infraction, fines can range from $172 to $575.
Increases to the fines for industrial users were also detailed in the changes and, as Carlier explained, past instances have shown a need for the rise. “Some years ago, there was a rail company that started a fire, intentionally or unintentionally, and the maximum fine (it was a $35,000,000 fire) was $5,000. So, we followed what Saskatchewan and BC are doing and we actually raised that limit to $1,000,000 so that’s going to help.”
Minister Carlier is quick to say that the point isn’t to punish but to “give them pause to think about something they shouldn’t be doing.” Something as simple as putting out a campfire seems easy but, as Carlier mentioned, the number of wildfires started by campfires might surprise you. “Last May, my officials told me there were 35 wildfires caused by campfires by the May long weekend.”
Another of the big changes added to the Forest and Prairie Protection Act concerns the use of drones near wildfires. “This is a really serious offence and I don’t believe we have seen it in Alberta yet but I know that in BC and California, they have had to actually ground their air tanker crews because of drones,” said Carlier.
“Having drones out there taking pictures or whatever they are trying to do causes air tanker crews to be grounded and unable to help keep fires from spreading. They could cause a small fire that could have been controlled, to get out of control.” Should an individual interfere with the fighting of a wildfire due to the use of a drone, an automatic court appearance will be the result.
“I want to encourage people to go out and enjoy the beauty that is Alberta, but do what you can to prevent wildfires. I’m pretty sure nobody wants to be the person who causes a fire and puts people’s lives and property in danger,” said Oneil.
Anyone interested in learning more about a future in forestry is encouraged to visit www.workwild.ca. If you spot a wildfire, please report it toll-free at 310-FIRE (3473), and to read the new regulations visit www.alberta.ca and search “Forest and Prairie Protection Act.”