The Alberta government tabled legislation Monday that aims to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires in the province. Over the past five years, about 70 per cent of the wildfires in Alberta have been linked to human activity.
The province said Bill 24, the Forest and Prairie Protection Amendment Act, will also enhance firefighting operations.
The province said the proposed amendments will:
- Strengthen penalties to help deter people from abandoning campfires or burning during fire bans
- Simplify the process to restrict activities like off-highway vehicle use when fire conditions are hazardous
- Improve authority to stop actions that interfere with firefighting, including restricting drones
- Improve disposal requirements for potentially hazardous forest debris
The legislation would raise maximum fines to $100,000 from $5,000 for anyone engaging in behaviour that could lead to wildfires.
The fine for corporations would be up to $1 million.
The size of a fine would depend on the nature of the violation and would be determined by the courts.
“Far too many wildfires are triggered by human activity and we need to take proactive steps that will help reduce the risk of this happening,” Minster of Agriculture and Forestry Oneil Carlier said in a statement Monday. “This important legislation will improve our ability to decrease the number of preventable fires, while also strengthening provisions that support the efforts of our wildfire fighters to keep Albertans and their communities safe.”
The proposal also includes a $10,000 maximum fine for industrial violations such as lack of firefighting equipment on a work site.
People burning fires during a fire ban without a permit or abandoning a campfire while it is still going would be fined between $150 and $1,000.
The province said it will also designate March 1 the official start of the wildfire season to ensure that burning permit requirements are in place in a timely manner. The official start of wildfire season was previously April 1.
In 2016, Alberta wildfire crews fought more than 1,300 fires, including the nearly 590,000-hectare wildfire that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray in May and destroyed portions of the city.
During the first day of the fall session of the Alberta legislature Monday, a ceremony was held to thank nine first-responder organizations that helped battle the Fort McMurray wildfire. (KLM, with files from Global Edmonton)