Agriculture liaison joins CRD EOC to work with commercial livestock producers impacted by wildfires

Agrologist Jim Forbes arrived in Williams Lake Saturday

An agriculture liaison has joined the Cariboo Regional District’s Emergency Operations Centre in Williams Lake to work with commercial livestock producers impacted by the wildfire situation in the region.

Jim Forbes, a regional agrologist with the Ministry of Agriculture, arrived in the lakecity Saturday morning from Kamloops.

Communications manager Emily Epp told the Tribune the CRD’s EOC had an agriculture liaison during the 2017 wildfires, but it was a long activation, so in 2018 they wanted to have someone in place sooner.

“He will be the contact point in our EOC for the agriculture community,” Epp said of the liaison’s role. “We are still directing everyone to call our public information line at 1-866-759-4977, and when the caller has a commercial livestock question those calls and messages are directed to Jim who then helps support those producers as they need.”

It worked effectively having a liaison in Williams Lake co-ordinating between the EOC and the ranching community, Epp said.

“Jim was one of those liaisons last year in our emergency operations centre. This year when we started ramping up and recognizing the need for a direct connection like we learned last year was so effective, we wanted to do that again and reached out to the Provincial Emergency Operation Centre (PEOC) and said we needed an agriculture liaison.”

Forbes said a number of agrologists are assigned throughout the province to help with emergency management situations.

Read more: B.C. Wildfire 2018: Thousands prepare to leave their homes at a moment’s notice

“Whenever a local government needs our assistance they turn to the PEOC. Most often we get based in the PEOC, but with the situation last year and the sheer volume, it made sense to have someone here in the CRD’s EOC.”

The provincial government has PEOCs throughout the province, and the Cariboo Regional District is part of the Northeast PEOC based out of Prince George, Epp said.

Forbes said there will be different people filling the post.

“I’ve been assigned for a week now and am slated to finish on Sunday, but I may get extended, depending on the situation with staff and if they have to go to the other areas,” Forbes said.

Forbes has answered a few questions already from commercial producers, but said the intent is to jump on things faster than last year.

“I imagine during the day, I’ll be getting more calls,” he added.

Read more: 87 active wildfires and 9 wildfires-of-note in Cariboo Fire Centre Aug. 11

Epp said people with pet or hobby farm concerns should call the BCSPCA at 1-855-622-7722.

“Jim is working mainly with commercial producers, but in our emergency operations centre we are still helping the people with hobby farms as best we can,” she explained.

Emergency Management B.C. stipulates its assistance is for farm-based producers, Forbes added.

“If someone has a few steers in the backyard, they have to look after those themselves the way it’s set up. Livestock producers are responsible for their own animals, but if they get to a point where their resources are overwhelmed to deal with those animals, that’s where the province steps in through the local government.”

Forbes said some livestock has been moved around on range tenures this wildfire season under the direction of B.C. Wildfire Service incident commanders.

“They will be moving the animals away from the direct path of the fire, and or, if they are going to do some burnouts.”

If animals are going to be relocated then the agriculture liaison will help arrange to pick them up,” Forbes said.

“We can relocate during the evacuation alert phase so that we’ve got the animals out and big trucks aren’t clogging up the roads if they go to an order and you are trying to get all the people out.”

In 2017 there was some relocating of livestock, however, Forbes said because many of the wildfires started and grew so quickly, it was difficult to respond so a feed program was put in place where hay was brought to livestock that were being harboured in safer areas as opposed to trying to relocate the livestock.

“If people have questions or need support they should call our information line,” Epp added. “If they aren’t sure if they fit in the category of a commercial producer, they can still call in and our EOC will see how we can support them and what their options will be.”



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