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Pine beetle leaving reserves vulnerable to wildfire



A string of wildfires in the Sea to Sky region has the federal government clamouring to protect First Nations communities hit by the pine beetle.

Chuck Strahl, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and MP for the Pemberton Valley, announced last week that the federal government was adding $10.8 million to the Mountain Pine Beetle Program, which supports efforts to reduce the risks of wildfire in First Nations communities.

The announcement came on Aug. 20, just days after lightning-sparked fires ignited forests on Mount Moe, Mount Currie and Whistler’s Nordic subdivision on Aug. 17 and 18.

Strahl said in a statement that the funding is meant to help First Nations councils apply FireSmart principles help protect reserves against fire damage. The money comes in addition to $5.1 million that the federal government has put towards communities impacted by the mountain pine beetle since 2004, according to a statement.

The money could come in handy for the Mount Currie band of the Lil’wat Nation, which has lately expressed concern about dead trees near the Xit’olacw townsite, the location of the Xit’olacw Community School and the Mount Currie Health Centre.

The townsite also houses nearly half of Mount Currie’s reserve population, according to Greg Bikadi, president of the Lil’wat Business Corporation.

“When we look up above Xit’olacw in particular there’s some mountain pine beetle bug kill up there,” he said.

Bikadi added that the threat of wildfire to Mount Currie is “negligible,” but he admitted that it’s certainly there now that the pine beetle has eaten away at trees surrounding the reserve.

“If you actually look at the mountains immediately, say to the east of the reserves in particular, there is still some bug kill going on out there,” he said. “A good part of the mature pine has been hit.”

Bikadi added that concern has mounted in the Lil’wat community after the wildfires on Aug. 17 and 18.

“There’s always the consideration,” he said. “It's one of those things, it's a natural disaster, hard to predict, as is the big earthquake that's supposed to hit us. We need to mitigate risk as best we can.”

For its part, Mount Currie started a FireSmart program some years back that involved clearing underbrush in areas that could be vulnerable to wildfire, according to Bikadi.

“It wasn't necessarily a full FireSmart program but it was more based on reducing that risk of wildfire within the community,” he said. “We started in the core and then worked our way out to the perimeter, in particular in that new townsite up in Xit'olacw.”