An indigenous-led report released by the University of British Columbia recommends changes in wildfire management and post-fire recovery in British Columbia, including engagement with affected indigenous communities earlier in the process.
The report was released on Monday, Dec. 6, some four years in the wake of the Elephant Hill megafire that burned over 469,500 acres and destroyed over 100 homes in the southcentral Interior region of B.C.
CBC News reported in May 2020 that the fire was most likely sparked by an individual who had been smoking but that there was insufficient evidence to file charges. The B.C. Wildfire Service said in a May 17, 2020, statement that the fire was ignited by discarded “smoking materials” such as cigarettes, matches or marijuana on July 6, 2017, near Ashcroft, B.C.
The UBC report was compiled by doctoral student Sarah Dickson-Hoyle, who worked closely with the Secwepemcul’ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society founded by eight Secwepemc First Nation communities impacted by the wildfire who are working on restoration of lands throughout their territories. Dickson-Hoyle said there was widespread frustration among these communities that Secwepemc knowledge of fire and their territories was largely ignored, hindering effective wildfire response.
“In the wake of the devastating 2021 wildfire season in B.C., there is a critical need to identify and share these lessons to guide indigenous-led wildlife recovery,” she said.
Angie Kane, chief executive officer of the society, said that Secwepemc communities manage, protect and revitalize their lands through unity and Secwepemc values and law.
“Take care of the land, the land takes care of us,” she said. “It is our cultural responsibility to ensure we leave a legacy of regenerated lands, enriched and thriving forests and biodiversity, healthy and abundant wildlife, clean air and water for future generations.”
The report attributes successful recovery efforts to a new collaboration between the Secwepemc communities and the provincial government through a Joint Leadership Council, which allows the Secwepemc communities to play a central role from reforestation to post-fire archaeology.
Still the report was critical of the lack of investment in long-term capacity building and limited strategic or landscape-level planning, due to conflicting perspectives between these First Nations communities and the government regarding the scope of wildfire recovery activities.
The report included a number of recommendations for improving wildfire management and recovery practices, including long-term funding and capacity building for indigenous emergency management offices and strengthening the role of indigenous wildfire liaisons. Establishment of a provincial framework for land-based wildfire recovery and support for indigenous communities in jointly implementing landscape-level wildfire recovery plans were also recommended.
Dickson-Hoyle prepared the report with Char John, SRSS’s natural resource community coordinator, with supervision from UBC forestry professors Lori Daniels and Shannon Hagerman.