City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Council adopts wildfire risk reduction plan

Staff will report on progress in three months

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024.

Council voted to adopt action number eight from the plan as a priority along with the rest of the overall plan as a guiding document.

Coun. Dan Boyd also proposed, with the rest of council agreeing, to an amendment specifying that staff report back to council on the work to implement the plan within three months.

As acting city manager Mike Gau explained to council in a previous report, the action item the city adopted would see the city work with the Yukon government, Kwanlin Dün First Nation, and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council to clarify the roles and responsibilities around the management of forests and fuel.

Gau noted forest and wildfire management in the territory is the responsibility of the Yukon government with First Nations also having a role on their settlement lands.

“The part to be played by the city needs to be clarified with the other levels of government as a priority action item,” Gau said.

Work around that item would also include looking at and applying for different funding sources to implement the plan, considering bylaw and policy changes to support wildfire risk management within the city and formalizing intergovernmental arrangements around fuel management, he said.

During a lengthy discussion amongst council members, there was mixed reaction to the recommendation put forward by Gau with some council members, such as Boyd, voicing concerns over timelines to work on the plan and worries that other action items outlined in the plan may not get the required focus or work they need.

Coun. Steve Roddick was also among those pointing to the importance of timelines, arguing this should be “one of the most important action plans for the city.”

Some echoed Roddick’s point, also arguing the 2021 wildfire season will be here soon, while also noting that there are a number of initiatives outlined in the plan that the city can take on such as applying for external funding for projects aimed at reducing wildfire risk and potential bylaw changes.

Meanwhile, other council members pointed out that while action number eight would be the starting point for work on the plan, the rest of the plan was also to be adopted as a guiding document.

“I do see this as a guiding document,” Mayor Dan Curtis said.

Councillors Jocelyn Curteanu and Jan Stick also made similar points with Curteanu adding there’s been no indication that the plan would be left as an open document. There’s nothing stopping council from asking administration for updates, she said, adding she was anxious to get going on the plan.

As Stick put it, “Action number eight’s critical and we’re going to do the rest.”

All council members agreed to Boyd’s amendment to require staff to report back to council on the plan in three months and voted in favour of adopting the recommendation to move ahead with working with other governments in clarifying roles and responsibilities while also voting to adopt the rest of the overall policy.

Other action items outlined in the plan will identify the city lead department and staff to implement the plan, apply for funding for projects, consider changes to a number of bylaws and policies to help decrease fire risk, support neighborhoods and community groups to participate in FireSmart programs, formalize the memorandum of understanding around personal fuelwood harvest in the city, and planning for biomass projects.

Earlier in the discussion, Curtis brought up Cabott’s role as the chair of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, questioning whether Cabott may be in a conflict of interest on the wildfire risk reduction strategy.

Boyd was quick to call a point of order on Curtis’ comments, arguing if Curtis wanted to make an accusation or challenge Cabott’s involvement, there are other ways to do so rather than bringing it up without notice at a council meeting.

Curtis argued he wasn’t making an accusation but added he may bring forward a motion or point of order at a later date to look at the issue.

Cabott said she wouldn’t be commenting on the suggestion she is in conflict and noted her focus was on moving forward with implementing the action plan.

The city’s procedures bylaw outlines regulations around conflicts of interest for council members.

It states that: “Members of council who are shareholders, officers or directors of a corporation that has dealings or contracts with the municipality shall not participate in council’s consideration of any question in relation to the corporation, and shall not vote on any such question.”

It goes on to note that council members who are members, shareholders, officers or employees of a society that has dealings or contracts with the municipality shall declare their relationship to the society or not-for profit before participating in council’s consideration of any issue in relation to the society or voting on any issue related to the society.

YESAB is an arm’s length body responsible for implementing the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Act.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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