Forest Fire Fighting

Res #: 15-04M
Number: 15
Year: 2004
Midterm: Yes
Expired: Yes
Responses Received: No
Departments: Saskatchewan Environment

Resolution No. 15-04M

WHEREAS, there are sections of The Prairie and Forest Fires Act, 1982 that allow the Saskatchewan Department of Environment to off load the costs of fighting forest fires onto a rural municipality that is bordering the provincial forest areas (if it is proven that the fire’s origin was in the RM); and

WHEREAS, there does not need to be negligence on behalf of the rural municipality or its ratepayers in order for these costs to be transferred; and

WHEREAS, the provincial government (with a population of one million) states that they do not have the resources and therefore cannot afford to pay for the fighting of these forest fires, but expect to transfer these costs onto a rural municipality with a limited assessment and population base; and

WHEREAS, the provincial government receives all the revenue from the provincial forest in terms of resources (i.e. lumber fees, hunting licenses, etc.) and yet are downloading one of their costs of doing business onto local municipalities;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that SARM lobby the province of Saskatchewan to change The Prairie and Forest Fires Act, 1982 by removing the sections that allow the Department of Environment to transfer these unfair costs.

Response from Saskatchewan Environment:

Local government is responsible for providing fire suppression services in its area of jurisdiction. When fires occur on municipal land then it is the responsibility of the municipality to suppress the fire. Costs to do so are borne by the municipality. In extreme circumstances, when wildfires grow beyond the capacity of the municipality to suppress, the provincial government's role is to help the municipality by suppressing the fire. The government also recognizes the limited capacity of municipalities to repay costs of the very large fires and so has in place a program that transfers the great majority of financial risk associated with the large fires onto the provincial tax base.

Prior to the 2002 season the government had a policy of recovering full costs from municipalities when government suppressed fires which were the responsibility of the municipality. This policy was greatly altered by the events of that season. The government spent $4.8 million to suppress fires in municipalities. In recognition of the burden that full cost recovery would place on municipalities, the Province responded by enacting a program where municipalities would not have to fully repay the costs incurred by the government to suppress fires which were municipal responsibility.

Eventually, the provincial government forgave $4.2 million in costs. These costs became an expense of the provincial treasury. Since that season the government has had a program in place that provides for limited cost recovery from municipalities. The program recognizes the limited capacity of municipalities to fully repay the costs of large fires. Recovery of costs is capped at the lesser of 5.67 mills or $300,000. In those instances, when large wildfires originate on municipal land, suppression costs that exceed $300,000 or 5.67 mills are shifted from being the responsibility of the ratepayers in a municipality to become an expense for the taxpayers of the province. The provincial government is sympathetic to the circumstances presently facing municipalities across the province.

Since the 2002 season, the province has actively worked with municipalities to build wildfire suppression capacity. At the same time the government has put in place a program that shifts the majority of the financial burden caused by large fires onto the provincial treasury and provides for limited cost recovery from municipalities based on their ability to pay. These actions demonstrate our commitment to municipalities and in particular those municipalities where wildfire is a threat.

The government believes the arrangement with municipalities for wildfire suppression is a fair one. Municipalities have the assurance that in difficult situations the province will provide its assistance to suppress fires as was done in 2002. The financial risks of large fires are largely borne by the provincial government and not municipalities. For their part, municipalities need to continue to provide capable suppression services. This includes not only having appropriate equipment but also taking preventative measures such as building and maintaining fire guards.