Event aims to curb wildfire risk

Our Future with Forest Fires takes place on Thursday (June 23)

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), in partnership with the Sea to Sky Clean Air Society, is hosting a climate symposium in hopes of curbing the risk of forest fires this summer.

Our Future with Forest Fires, slated for Thursday (June 23) at the Maury Young Arts Centre, will include a panel of speakers who will discuss Whistler’s vulnerability to wildfires followed by an “Apres in Action,” in which participants will talk about concrete ways to help protect the area.

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“Communities around the globe are planning for climate change,” said Claire Ruddy, executive director for AWARE. “In Whistler and the Sea to Sky we know we can expect longer, hotter summers. As a community surrounded by dense second-growth forest, it makes us vulnerable.”

There have been a number of warning signs that Whistler needs to tackle this issue, she added. Last year, for nearly a week the valley was flooded in a thick cloud of smoke from fires burning outside of Pemberton. Earlier this year, wildfires in Fort McMurray that prompted the evacuation of that city drew parallels to Whistler; both communities are surrounded by forest and both only have one main highway running through town. Finally, earlier last month, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) released its Community Energy and Climate Action draft plan, which revealed that the area can anticipate hotter summers going forward.

“As we saw last summer and have seen so far this year, wildfires have a huge impact not just on community centres, but also on habitat and wildlife,” Ruddy said. “The sad fact is a lot of them are started by human activity. We can take action to decrease the incidence of wildfire.”

Speakers at the symposium include Bruce Blackwell, a long-time forester and biologist who will discuss the role of wildfires on forest health and ecology, Dr. Sarah Henderson, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia who will talk about the health impacts related to smoke from forest fires, Geoff Playfair, Whistler’s fire chief and Scott Shaw-MacLaren, resource manager for the Sea to Sky Natural Resource District who will look at the opportunities for adapting to the new wildfire reality.

“We want to raise awareness of various topics we have speakers on, relating to mitigation, how to read smoke advisories — which is interesting after what we saw last year — how wildfires might impact our tourism, our industry and our habitat,” Ruddy said. “We want to come out of it with a set of actions.”

While the event is open to the entire community, organizers have also extended an invitation specifically to tourism companies with tenure in forested areas, as well as people involved in education around fire and representatives from the local and regional government.

“We’ve got an interactive part to the event, which is the Apres in Action,” Ruddy said. “We’ll be asking people to take action — and about the tools they’re missing — and collaborate with others to create those tools. For example, the recreation tenure holders in the Callaghan might want to create some shared resources — like signs and posters — to put in their facility where they’re welcoming guests to alert them to the importance of not smoking and throwing their cigarette butts on the forest floor.”

The event runs from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Tickets are $25 for the afternoon or $10 per talk. For more information visit eventbrite.ca and search Our Future with Forest Fires.

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