Whistler's first-quarter climate plan update presented 

Wildfire preparedness day set for May 4

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - STAY SMART The Resort Municipality of Whistler was presented with a FireSmart Community Protection Achievement Certificate from FireSmart Canada for its work in 2018. From left: deputy fire chief Chris Nelson, Jen Ford, Heather Beresford, Scott Rogers, Jack Crompton, Ralph Forsyth, John Grills, Duane Jackson, Cathy Jewett, Arthur De Jong.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • STAY SMART The Resort Municipality of Whistler was presented with a FireSmart Community Protection Achievement Certificate from FireSmart Canada for its work in 2018. From left: deputy fire chief Chris Nelson, Jen Ford, Heather Beresford, Scott Rogers, Jack Crompton, Ralph Forsyth, John Grills, Duane Jackson, Cathy Jewett, Arthur De Jong.

Recruitment of Whistler's full-time climate change coordinator is underway, with the successful candidate expected to start in May, according to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).

Having the new staff member on board will help carry out actions in Whistler's Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), on which council received a first-quarter update at its April 16 meeting.

The update highlighted wildfire-fuel-reduction work and second reading of the Official Community Plan as two more positives on the CECAP front in Q1, while noting that transportation issues continue to be a priority item moving forward.

A municipal incentive program offering $2,000 to residential and business owners looking to upgrade from fossil-fuel heating systems to electric (in addition to a $2,000 rebate from Efficiency BC) has yet to be taken advantage of, noted environmental coordinator Amy Sefton.

"To date, no one's redeemed one of these municipal top-ups," she said.

"So we are considering alternating (it)."

While work is progressing on some fronts, many CECAP action items remain unchanged from the last update to council in December, the report concluded—though the addition of the climate-change coordinator and a new full-time solid waste technician will help speed up progress on energy and emission reduction.

One of the first tasks of the solid waste technician will be initiating a zero waste committee, Sefton said.

Evaluations are also underway for metered water rates for industrial, commercial and institutional properties in Whistler.

The update was timely, as the April 16 council package also included a letter from Whistler Secondary School (WSS) student Matt Ogilvie Turner regarding the March 15 school strike for climate action.

In his letter (accompanied by the signatures of the 138 WSS students who supported the strike), Ogilvie Turner asked council to take further action on climate change, and activate on the CECAP with more urgency.

"Last October the (RMOW) signed a climate change action letter," Ogilvie Turner wrote.

"Even though you backed away from it out of fear of reprisals by the fossil fuel industry, we support its message and hope that Whistler fully introduces its (CECAP)."

In the letter, Ogilvie Turner notes that Whistler's total CO2 emissions have been increasing in recent years, and acknowledges that the resort relies on millions driving and flying to stay here, "but is there an opportunity to educate all these people from all over the world about climate change and sustainability while they are here? Can we create our own carbon-offset program? Can we at least save the old-growth forest in our Community Forest?" he wrote.

"Whistler's leaders need to make their voices heard at the local, provincial and federal level. You have a powerful voice—use it to help us."

Ogilvie Turner was on hand for the April 16 meeting with a handmade sign from the March 15 strike, and was recognized by council for his efforts.

"Matt, thank you so much for your leadership, and all the young people behind you," said Councillor Arthur De Jong, who oversees Whistler's environment portfolio and was in attendance for the strike.

"Keep it coming."

Mayor Jack Crompton agreed.

"There are exciting actions for us to take around climate," Crompton said.

"We very much appreciate being pushed."

WILDFIRE PREPAREDNESS DAY SET FOR MAY 4

Also at the April 16 meeting, council proclaimed May 4 as Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in Whistler.

The RMOW is encouraging homeowners to take a close look at their properties to see how they might be protected using FireSmart principles.

Whistler's efforts as a municipality last year didn't go unnoticed, with the RMOW being presented a FireSmart Community Protection Achievement Certificate from FireSmart Canada for its work in 2018.

"This is a kudos from the national standard that says, 'you guys are now in very good company.' This is something that we are proud of," said FireSmart coordinator Scott Rogers, in a presentation to council.

"This says we're looking at it from the fire department helping with the critical infrastructure, the landscape-level planning, the higher level with our Official Community Plan, and working with community members.

"This says we're doing a lot of good things, and they're saying great job."

But the work is never done, and Whistler's wildfire protection program will target three key areas in 2019: wildfire fuel reduction (on Cheakamus Lake Road, near Kadenwood, in the Rainbow interface area and around priority critical infrastructure areas), public education and support for the FireSmart program and improvements to policy and process.

FireSmart community chipper days and strata work days are also returning this year, as is the adopt-a-trail campaign (which is looking for volunteer groups to help FireSmart sections of the Valley Trail).

Anyone interested in either can email Rogers at srogers@whistler.ca.

The RMOW's 2019-to-2023 proposed project list includes $639,540 for wildfire protection in 2019 (plus another $591,000 from provincial grants), and $3,448,900 from 2020 to 2023.

For its part, the Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) will FireSmart around seven critical infrastructure sites from May to October, and is now outfitted with a Utility Transport Vehicle armed with a fast response pump/foam unit to allow access to narrow trails and unpaved roads not suited for larger vehicles.

The WFRS will also continue to do campfire inspections on properties this year, offering education on safety and FireSmart principles in the process (residents are required to apply for a free campfire permit at municipal hall).

While Whistler is in the second year of a two-year pilot program with a German company called FireWatch—which installed two fire detection cameras in the valley last year—"the verdict is still out" on the cameras, said deputy fire chief Chris Nelson.

"They monitor smoke-like conditions, and the cameras can see 14,000 different types of shades of grey ... unfortunately, we get 1,000 false positive per day, so it's like Chicken Little calling that the sky is falling," Nelson said.

Further to that, there was an instance last year where a small fire ignited on the east side of Green Lake that was noticed by members of the public—but went undetected by the closest FireWatch camera.

"So it's an expensive program, and not likely we're going to do it (after this year) ... during those extreme months of fire, (WFRS) does campfire patrols throughout the valley until midnight," Nelson said.

"So we're very vigilant, we're very aware of what the conditions are, and even with very, very high smoke concentration in the valley, we're able to see anything unusual."

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