Alphabet soup nourishes

FCM. UBCM. AKBLG. Like any field of interest, local government has its own recipe for alphabet soup.

FCM. UBCM. AKBLG. Like any field of interest, local government has its own recipe for alphabet soup.

The FCM is the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, our voice at the federal level, and at the provincial level, it’s the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities).

Our regional organization is the AKBLG – the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments, covering the area from Big White to the big Rockies, from the border north to Golden and Nakusp.

Kimberley hosted the annual AKBLG conference at the end of April, and a number of us attended. In recent years, this organization has become more effective and more relevant, and this year’s event exemplified that.

As well as elections and consideration of resolutions, the conference provided some great workshops. Other councillors attended sessions on social media and on the new ministry of jobs, tourism and innovation.

I attended one on strategic planning. It actually made me feel pretty good about our approach to completing strategic plans, and then having council and staff together plot how to prioritize and implement the outcomes of those plans. They’re not bookends!

A session on the Columbia River Treaty involved two men from the U.S. (representing our treaty partners there) and a woman from BC Hydro. It was concerning to hear how organized the state-side folks are in preparing for the upcoming negotiations around the future of the Treaty — and how unprepared B.C. is to date.

Undeterred by provincial inertia, the AKBLG has established a treaty committee with the Columbia Basin Trust and First Nations “to educate and activate” basin residents about the treaty, and be a conduit for citizens’ input to the re-negotiation. This treaty is important in so many ways to our environment and communities. So get set to “learn about our past, think about our future,” as the CBT says.

The most fascinating presentation was by fire ecologist Bob Gray and his two colleagues who are working with Cranbrook, Kimberley and the Ktunaxa on a new approach to wildfire-urban interface issues. Currently in B.C. we’re spending millions of dollars to reduce fuels in interface areas — it’s expensive and only a temporary fix that will need to be repeated as re-growth occurs.

Gray et al’s approach is to delineate bio-energy reserves around communities, based on fire behavior and economics. Those reserves have two goals: to provide a safer forest interface and to provide a source of fuel for bio-energy. The waste wood produced by firesmarting the forest is sold as a feedstock for community heating (e.g. converted to pellets or chips for use in small district energy plants). The revenue can then be used for ongoing fire mitigation work.

This approach is similar to one operating in six U.S. states, called “Fuel for Schools and Beyond.” The program promotes wood biomass as a renewable, clean energy source, and it facilitates the removal of hazardous fuels from forests by developing commercial uses for the removed material. It’s a successful model and I look forward to the results of the analysis and assessment that Gray et al are doing.

The AKBLG was definitely a nourishing experience this year.

Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares column space in the Star with her council colleagues.