Michael Butler worries about people with respiratory problems in the Mill Bay and Cobble Hill areas with all the smoke in the air recently.
Butler said “slash and burn” activities have been ongoing for weeks, blanketing the area and stretching north toward Mill Bay and south towards the Malahat and Victoria.
“The fact that these burns are almost always done in wet rainy weather pretty much ensures maximum smoke which then blends with low cloud or fog as it drifts either south or north,” Butler said.
“I think it may be mostly companies like BC Hydro and land developers clearing land and burning trees. I understand that these people need to do this as part of their jobs, but the smoke is very intrusive for lots of people. I’m guessing the Cowichan Valley Regional District doesn’t believe in global warming [the CVRD has acknowledged a climate emergency] which is fine by me, but how about all those people with respiratory issues?”
Ian MacDonald, from the CVRD’s land use services department, said this is the first complaint the CVRD has received about managed burns in that area.
But he said managed forest burns are not regulated by the CVRD’s burning bylaw, but by the province.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development, which has jurisdiction over managed burns in B.C., said the burning in question is a category-three fire that has been approved by the province.
A category-three open fire is a fire that burns material in piles larger than two metres high and three metres wide over an area larger than 2,000-square metres in size.
Anyone lighting a category-three fire must first obtain a burn registration number from the province.
Category-three burns are prohibited when venting conditions are “poor” or “fair”, which can be more frequent in the Valley than other areas because the geography of the Valley, ringed by mountains, means bad air is often held at ground level at certain times of the year, leading to health problems for those with respiratory issues.
To help deal with smoke issues, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy just recently brought in a new Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation in September.
A statement from the ministry said that while open burning produces air pollutants and greenhouse gases, it is also an effective way to reduce fire hazard by disposing of debris from logging and other activities.
“[The new regulation] ensures that when burning does take place, its impacts on air quality and human health are reduced,” the statement said.
“The focus of this regulation is on better protecting human health, specifically reducing the impact of smoke on small communities. Those who burn under the regulation are required to explore all possible options to reduce, reuse or recycle as much of the material as possible.”
If a regional director from the ministry decides that a burn is causing pollution, they can prohibit further burning or order that the fire be extinguished.
The new regulation states that, instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of the previous regulation, the new one uses low, medium and high-smoke sensitivity zones.
The zones are based on distance, topography, prevailing winds and the judgment of experts.
“High smoke sensitivity zones (areas in and around communities where the risk of smoke impacts is greatest) account for five per cent of the province’s area,” the statement said.
“In these zones, there will be shorter burn periods, down from three to four days, to one to two days. Also, debris will need to be seasoned (dried out) so it burns faster and cleaner. People must still also meet any municipal, local fire department or government burning rules.”
Contraventions of the new regulation could lead to conviction and a fine of up to $200,000.